188 percent tuition increase worries college administration, students | TahoeDailyTribune.com

188 percent tuition increase worries college administration, students

Tuition increases for the California Community College system has put fear in officials who believe many students will be priced-out of taking classes.

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed a $23 increase per semester unit while asking for funding cuts for community college programs that total $530 million for the start of the 2003-04 school year. It was part of his solution to fix an estimated $35 billion deficit.

For the three community colleges with a quarter schedule, such as Lake Tahoe Community College, the proposed increase will be from $7 per unit to $16, officials said.

The result puts the system, which serves 2.9 million students in California, in a financial vise that places increasing pressure on colleges to possibly cut classes, maintain equipment with less money and look at decreasing compensation for faculty and staff.

“Taken together, the proposed fee increase and budget cuts will further decimate our ability to offer the classes and services these students need,” said Chancellor Thomas Nussbaum. “The situation has never been more dire.”

LTCC President Guy Lease said the 188 percent increase in fees was too sudden for one time.

“The message is you pay more but get less,” Lease said. “I think that’s a really bad message the state of California is sending to those who need the support to pursue their education dreams the most.”

The chancellor’s office estimated the loss of priced-out students to be approximately 146,000.

“Right now, the students most in jeopardy are the low-income students. The fee increases would be devastating to them,” said Kirsten Macintyre, public information officer for the chancellor’s office. “We do have tons of financial aid programs and even a Board of Governors Fee Waiver Program for those who qualify, but very few students realize those options exist.”

Macintyre said many community colleges are looking to cut back transfer-eligible classes.

The fee waiver program pays for all the tuition fees of students but doesn’t cover books or other campus costs, Macintyre said. Students can qualify for the waiver if they participate in certain public benefit programs such as welfare, meeting the income ceiling established by the chancellor’s office and demonstrating a financial need, she added.

A form for the waiver program can be picked up at the financial aid office at LTCC. Last year more than 800 LTCC students qualified for the waiver, said Lynn Thiesen, director of financial aid.

A Pell Grant, part of a federal program for financial aid, is available and could pay for most of the fees including tuition, books and transportation costs.

Thiesen said not many students have appeared at her office for financial aid even though now is the time to apply for next year. She encouraged all students to look into financial aid.

“We always say that it doesn’t cost any money to apply, it just costs time,” Thiesen said.

Students milling about LTCC on Tuesday echoed sentiments that the hike was unfortunate, but continued to believe that community college education would remain cheap.

“I think it sucks, dude,” said Joe Chiechi while sitting in the cafeteria, adding he might have to get a job or “scrounge” for more money. Chiechi was upset about the proposed university hikes as well, saying it makes it more difficult to transfer.

“Gray Davis shouldn’t tax college students for his stupid mistakes,” he said.

Charlotte Castillo, a South Tahoe High School senior planning to go to LTCC next year, understands the dilemma.

“Obviously it’s still cheaper going to a (California State University)” she said, while eating pasta near the theater. “It’s a real bummer, though.”

Paul Ivanovsky, a former coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers, agreed that low-income students and students on a fixed income would bear the brunt of the proposed bump in fees.

“Not everybody has mommy and daddy paying for their tuition,” he said. “Some students have to work to pay for their education.”

Andrea Hale had a more extreme point of view. Her parents claim her on taxes so she can’t apply for the fee waiver.

“I’m outraged,” Hale said. “It’s the most stupid thing they could do. It makes it harder to live in South Lake Tahoe.”

The college has already started discussions on what to cut. The spring schedule will have fewer pages to lower printing costs. Talks have been thrown around about closing the library and perhaps the campus on weekends, as well as decreasing tutoring services, said Christina Proctor, spokeswoman for LTCC.

Proctor said the college is concerned when the possible unit costs would increase, hoping it wouldn’t begin in April or before the start of LTCC’s fiscal year in July.

On Friday at 2 p.m., Lease will give his state of the college address in the theater. It will be the kickoff to molding the 2003-04 budget, Proctor said.

Students can apply for financial aid online by going to http://www.fafsa.ed.gov.

— Contact William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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