Yavapai College is asking students to kick in another $3 a credit hour come fall to fund increases in fixed costs, said Clint Ewell, vice president of finance.
First-tier courses, like lectures, will go up from $72 to $75. Ewell said increases across the board amount to about 4 percent, and will raise $400,000 to help pay for personnel, utilities, and health insurance costs.
"This will be our first increase request in a couple of years," Ewell said.
The $3 increase applies to credits in tier one and two courses, like lectures, music and art and science classes with labs. Yavapai College's most expensive courses, considered tier three, are increasing by $4 per credit hour.
Board members voted 3-2 for the increase during Tuesday afternoon's board meeting in Sedona, after an intermission and when most of the audience had left. Many residents provided public comment at the start of the meeting in support of keeping Verde Valley tax dollars in the Verde Valley.
Board members Al Filardo and Deb McCasland voted against the tuition increases. McCasland, who represents Camp Verde, Beaver Creek, and several other communities, said this isn't the time to raise tuition and that the college should look to its reserves if it needs more funds.
"I really hesitate to approve this, because you saw the jail tax go down in defeat," she said, also pointing to the Verde Valley's mixed response to bonds and overrides for public K-12 schools.
Mingus Union High School had asked voters to approve a budget override in November of last year, and almost 54 percent said no. At the same time, a $15-million bond was approved for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Districts.
Superintendent Paul Tighe said at the time that ballot language asking "yes, budget increase" or "no, budget increase" may have confused voters into deciding against the funds.
Filardo, who represents Clarkdale and Cottonwood, among others, said he couldn't see the consequences of not allocating the money.
"Coconino enrollment is going up, ours is coming down," he said. "Enrollment's going down, yet we have a great product."
Ray Sigafoos, representing Prescott and its surrounding areas, called for a vote and was seconded before McCasland and Filardo started asking questions. During the discussion, Ewell said small increases every couple of years impact students less than waiting and balancing the budget with infrequent, but large, tuition bumps.
Patricia McCarver, representing Chino Valley and other communities, said she's seen the impact one massive increase can have. The college at one time had to ask students for $12 more per credit hour.
"They had allowed those fixed costs to get out of control with the budget," she said of the board at the time. "Then they were in a position where they were stuck."
She said the board has had "the philosophy over the last couple of years of keeping the increases small and manageable."
Property tax rates that help support the college are in the middle of the pack compared to what other Arizona community colleges ask of their taxpayers, Ewell said. Yavapai College's average increase has been about 1 percent behind inflation for the last couple years.
"It's highly likely that we will be asking for an increase when we meet with you next month," he said to the board of the property tax rate.
Steve Irwin, representing Prescott Valley, said without the approval of the tuition increase, it's possible the college would have to ask property taxpayers for 3 instead of 2 percent more.
"If not this, when the vote for property taxes comes up, the recommendation might not be 2 percent, it might be higher," Irwin said.
After the discussion on Sigafoo's motion to pass the tuition increase, the board voted and McCasland and Filardo both voted against it.
The dual enrollment program has been touted by the college as a way to bridge the pathway from secondary to postsecondary education, with 14 auto students at Mingus Union High School graduating with free basic automotive certificates this May.
Before the recess, Verde campus dean James Perey gave an update on the Verde campus and its offerings. He said 417 high school students are enrolled in dual credit:
-- Camp Verde: 92
-- Mingus: 268
-- Sedona: 57
"Sedona just jumped on board the last couple years," he said. "We expect that this will continue to expand."
Ewell said in total, this amounts to about $140,000 per year and represents one of the college's largest areas of student credit hours. With instructors paid a stipend rather than a full-time instructor's pay, Ewell said dual enrollment is a cost-effective way to deliver certain coursework.
"This is something that might not be able to continue in perpetuity," he said.
McCasland asked if this is a business the college can afford to be in, and Ewell said the college is considering phasing in a paid program.
Schools would get a year's notice if YC does start charging, and Ewell said the college would look to start a scholarship fund for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
The Ducey budget
State funding has amounted to about 1 percent of the college's budget, Ewell said.
Gov. Doug Ducey's proposed budget leaves funding for small schools like Yavapai College untouched. Community college funding is decreasing by about 15 percent, but the cuts are being spread among Pinal, Pima and Maricopa community college districts alone.
"Clearly those three districts are lobbying to beat the band to make an Arizona, across-the-board cut," Ewell said.
If that does happen, Ewell said the total impact on Yavapai could be more than a quarter of a million dollars. $120,000 would be taken from operations, and about the same amount would come out of the capital budget.
Ewell said the college is expecting state funding to decrease by $24,000 for now.
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