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Community colleges hike tuition in face of steep funding cuts
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Community colleges hike tuition in face of steep funding cuts

  • Krystal Sanchez, 20, works on financial aid forms in the library at Phoenix College. She is studying to be a social worker but was only able to afford to take two classes and could face increased tuition in the coming years.
    Tessa Muggeridge/Cronkite News ServiceKrystal Sanchez, 20, works on financial aid forms in the library at Phoenix College. She is studying to be a social worker but was only able to afford to take two classes and could face increased tuition in the coming years.
  • Phoenix College student Joseph Wolde, 20, talks with a friend on campus. Wolde said if he loses his financial aid, he might leave school to join the military.
    Tessa Muggeridge/Cronkite News ServicePhoenix College student Joseph Wolde, 20, talks with a friend on campus. Wolde said if he loses his financial aid, he might leave school to join the military.
  • Ashley Slaney/Cronkite News Service

After a disappointing experience and a $38,000 bill for a year in cosmetology school, Krystal Sanchez decided to go to community college to become a social worker.

Sanchez, 20, picked Phoenix College near her home but could only afford to take two classes. She also works full-time at a group home.

Now Sanchez faces higher tuition costs next semester as community college districts around Arizona grapple with state funding cuts.

"I'm paying out of pocket, and I make monthly payments," she said. "If tuition goes up, some people won't be able to pay for it."

The governing board for Maricopa Community Colleges, the state's largest district with 10 schools and more than 260,000 students, voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to raise tuition from $71 per credit to $76 for Arizona residents. It added or increased fees for 441 classes and reduced or eliminated fees for 121 others.

With a third year of state budget cuts looming, other community college districts are searching for ways to save money and bring in new revenue in addition to raising tuition.

Pima Community College's governing board last month approved a $5 increase to bring fall tuition to $58 per credit, the largest increase the school has ever seen, said Executive Vice Chancellor David Bea.

Pima, which has about 80,000 students, would lose about $9 million under Brewer's proposal, or about 6 percent of its operating budget, Bea said.

After working hard to avoid layoffs and only eliminating positions by attrition, Bea said the drop in state funding will mean layoffs for the first time. Pima will also close an education center, a small branch campus that's in northeast Tucson, eliminate childcare facilities and enact a partial hiring freeze, he said.

That comes after years of an on-and-off partial hiring freeze, shifting staff from a 37.5- to a 40-hour work week and eliminating 7 percent of staff and 14 percent of administrative positions through attrition, Bea said.

"We're doing everything we can. From the general operating standpoint, it's getting very tight," he said. "The trend in state funding over time doesn't give you a lot of optimism."

Cochise College in southeastern Arizona will add or raise fees for some courses and leave open positions unfilled. Pima Community College plans layoffs and will close a small branch campus. Yavapai College is cutting some sports teams and reducing enrollment in nursing, an expensive program.

Under the proposed budget by Gov. Jan Brewer, Maricopa Community Colleges faces a $38.4 million cut, or 85 percent of the funding it received this fiscal year. That number would take the district from being funded at 8 percent from the state to 2 percent, district spokesman Tom Gariepy said.

At Phoenix College, some students said they already have to work hard to pay for tuition as it is.

Daniel Stephens, 50, an Air Force veteran who began studying art in the fall, said he's already strained using two loans and working part-time to pay for school. But he said education is too important to skip.

"If they raise tuition up too much, I don't know what I would have to do," he said. "I understand it to a degree because the whole system is tight, but I think they could do a whole lot better in taking money from places other than education."

Joseph Wolde, 20, who is studying criminal justice, said the cuts are short-sighted because young people are the future.

"You raise the prices and people won't want to be here anymore," he said.

The governing board at Cochise College recently approved increasing tuition by $9 per credit, the largest jump ever, to $63 for in-state students. It will also increase or add course fees ranging from $15 to $300 for high-cost programs like nursing and aviation, said Kevin Butler, vice president for administration.

Under Brewer's proposal, Cochise, which has about 16,000 students, would lose $2.5 million in funding from the state next fiscal year.

"We've tried to maintain a $2 increment in tuition increases … but now that we've incurred back to back to back to back budget cuts, we really have to do something on the revenue side," Butler said. "In order to make up $2.5 million, we would have had to increase our tuition about $30 a credit hour, and we just can't do that in our market."

At Yavapai College in Prescott, tuition will rise next fall from $62 to $67 per credit. Spokeswoman Katie Hoeschler said Brewer's proposal calls for a $3.4 million cut for Yavapai, which has about 13,000 students.

"We really haven't changed much for our programs and services until this most recent cut because it has been so drastic," she said.

Now, Yavapai cut 15 of around 280 staff positions, won't fill open positions and will slice the hours of part-time faculty members. It also cut the men's and women's basketball teams, trimmed enrollment in its nursing program by half and has planned $600,000 in administrative cuts for next year, Hoeschler said.

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