Breaking the bank: Tuition increase


An illustration of Dollar signs, and different numbers in varied colors and random positions.

By Marissa Adams

With tuition costs set to increase to $46 per unit this summer, do you know where your money goes? From budget juggling by officials to financial aid, we look at what happens when the state’s budget crisis puts students in a bind.

In an attempt to close the budget gap California will increase tuition by $10 to $46 per unit this summer, passing higher education costs on to community college districts and their students.

“When the state is broke, they intentionally overstate two items to help their state budget: property taxes and fee collections. The larger those numbers are, the smaller the state aid is to us,” said Peter Hardash, vice chancellor of business operations and fiscal services.

California uses estimates of how much tuition and property tax each district collects.

The Rancho Santiago Community College District was projected to collect more than $9 million in student fees last year, but that number will be closer to $7 million, Hardash said. The state also overestimated the revenue from property tax, expecting about $42 million from the district. RSCCD, which serves cities including Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Orange and parts of Tustin, collected $39 million.

“If we expect these higher levels of money and they don’t materialize, then we have a really big problem,” Hardash said.

Districts must find a way to cover the shortfall or choose to continue cutting costs. Since state won’t cover the shortage, it is seen as a deficit.

For example, if the state estimates revenues of $7 million and the schools only collect $6 million, they will still have $7 million subtracted from their government funding. Even if schools chose not to collect fees from students, the state would still subtract the estimated amount.

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Tuition increases do not benefit colleges at the local level, but impact California’s ability to parcel out limited monies to other public services and utilities aside from education, including safety, health care and unemployment benefits.

This process provides California the flexibility to spread funding for other services, while cutting the state’s overall expenses.

Many students at SAC qualify for Board of Governor’s fee waivers, so while the increase is designed to give colleges financial flexibility, college districts located in poorer areas won’t see a jump in revenue.

“Close to 54 percent of our students here on campus are receiving the Board of Governors fee waiver,” said Robert Manson, associate dean of financial aid at SAC.

“Most of our students are not affected at all and the ones who are affected are still paying much less than they would at a Cal State or private school,” Manson said.

The fee increase will not be large enough to enable more students to qualify for fee waivers, Manson said.

Cory Martinez is a full-time SAC student who received the BOG fee waiver this year.

“Luckily, it won’t affect me personally, but if I hadn’t received the financial aid, it would have been really rough,” Martinez said.

Unlike colleges belonging to other districts, RSCCD’s conservative fiscal policies resulted in substantial reserves, insulating SAC and Santiago Canyon College from making severe cuts in the last few years.

Even though California community college students will see costs rise, they pay the lowest fees in America.

Students in New Mexico pay the second lowest fees, at $48.25 per unit. Students in Pennsylvania pay nearly $138 per unit.

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