Melinda Sanchez was very relieved to hear that tuition rates will not increase for the fiscal year 2012-13. She is a mother of three who, along with her daughter, came to Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) to finish her education. “Tuition costs and the cost of the books are a huge decision factor in our family,” she said.
Sanchez always worries about the possibility of a tuition increase; she has to pay for her and her daughter’s classes. She is afraid that one day tuition will jump to three digits per credit, especially now that her second daughter is almost finished with high school. “If the tuition is too high, we would have to decide who should go to college,” she said. “Changes in tuition costs really matter for people who are paying out-of-pocket with no help from financial aid or grants.”
The Governing Board of the Maricopa Community Colleges District (MCCCD), the largest public higher education institution in the state of Arizona, including 10 colleges and 2 skill centers and serving over 240,000 students, decided not to increase tuition rates for resident students for the fiscal year 2012-13. The rates will stay at $76 per credit, which is still below the average price of the four-year public institutions in Arizona.
“The MCCCD Governing Board is committed to keeping the cost of tuition and attending college as low as possible,” said James Mitter, Budget Analyst at EMCC. “For example, this year the MCCCD Governing Board did not allow any of the colleges to increase or implement new course fees.”
With the severity of the economic recession that the country has been experiencing for the last decade, the Maricopa District found itself facing a big challenge, offering a quality education to a growing number of students with far less resources than was previously projected.
Maricopa colleges are funded through three main venues: property taxes, tuition and fees, and state aid. Income from taxes on county property represents a major source of revenue, about two-thirds of the general fund. The property values have been declining for the past five years and with them the tax revenues from those properties. MCCCD’s Adopted Budget Report for the fiscal year 2012-13 stated, “There was an overall 12.5 percent decrease in net primary assessed valuation in Maricopa County.”
Even though the Maricopa District had been increasing the tax levy for the last three years as a strategy to make up for the revenue shortage, it is still below the funds needed to support enrollment growth due to the slow economic recovery and the lack of new housing developments. However, the District is not planning to change its course of action. “For the fiscal year 2012-13 the Maricopa District did not increase the property tax levy…the taxes going to the Maricopa colleges did not change,” said Gaye Murphy, Associate Vice Chancellor for Business Services.
Tuition and fees are also a big portion of Maricopa District revenue, almost one third of the total fund. But since the economic downturn, the District had to increase tuition costs several times to compensate for the drop in property tax revenues and state funding.
Over the past 10 years, the tuition rates in Maricopa District went up six times for in-state students, with an average increase of $5 each time, and eight times for out of state students with an average increase of $13. Overall, since 2001, tuition rates have increased by almost 65 percent for resident students and 50 percent for out-of-state students. According to MCCCD’s Adopted Tuition and Fees for the fiscal year of 2001-2, students paid only $43 per credit for in-state tuition and $180 per credit for out-of-state tuition.
The third channel that Maricopa Community Colleges count on for revenue is the state aid that used to represent 10 percent of the District’s total income. Today, that state aid is slowly dissipating. For the fiscal year 2012-13, the state of Arizona will give Maricopa Community Colleges $8.3 million, which accounts for less than 1.2 percent of the District’s total revenues, according to the Adopted Budget Report for the fiscal year 2012-13.
Since the District is not increasing tuition fees for this fiscal year, the reduction in state funding forced the District to cut spending and allocate other resources to balance its budget. “We need to operate within a given budget and be efficient,” said Debbie Kushibab, Vice President of Student Affairs at EMCC, “and not let the shortage of resources compromise the quality of education we intend to offer.”
Will tuition increase the next fiscal year? Nobody knows yet. Since state aid and property taxes are directly dependent on the health of the economy, whether tuition will increase depends upon how quickly the economy recovers and the politics of the state.