California community college students dodge another fee hike for now

California community college students won't face another tuition increase anytime soon, due to Gov. Jerry Brown's Sept. 21 approval of Assembly Bill No. 32, which postponed a fee increase from $36 to $46 per unit until summer 2012, and initially proposed for spring 2012. “I congratulate the Legislature for passing this bill that defers until summer a $10 per unit fee increase in the event that mid-year budget cuts are deemed necessary,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott in a statement.

According to a report from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Office of Communications, enrollment fees will increase if the state of California is faced with a budget shortfall of at least $1 billion by Dec. 15, 2011.

If the state sustains a $2 billion deficit, funding to community colleges would likely be cut an additional $102 million.

Either scenario would yield the projected fee hikes in the summer of 2012, unless a budget deficit is deterred.

“Without this change, colleges likely would have to implement the fee increase with only a couple of weeks’ notice,” Scott continued in his statement. “This bill gives colleges and students adequate time to prepare for increased fees if they become necessary.”

California community colleges have already increased enrollment fees from $26 to $36 per unit this fall semester.

If the anticipated subsequent increase occurs in the summer of 2012, then enrollment costs will have risen by 77 percent over a one-year period.

Still, California community college fees remain “significantly below the national average,” according to the 2011-12 budget report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office. “Even at $60 per unit [California Community College] fees would remain among the very lowest in the country.”

“Most community colleges of this stature are double that price per unit,” said Sam Rosenberg, a second-year business major at Santa Monica College. “I moved out here from Chicago, and the unit price was $92 a unit and would increase every year.”

The Community College Times reports that student enrollment has slightly declined at many community colleges across the country, due in part to the fee increases this fall term.

But Santa Monica College has maintained high enrollment this semester, with 33,372 students currently enrolled as of Sept. 29, according to Daniel Berumen, research analyst for SMC’s Office of Institutional Research.

This enrollment number is marginally higher than that of spring 2011, when 33,004 registered students attended SMC.

Teresita Rodriguez, vice president and senior administrator of the SMC Enrollment Development Department, said that enrollment at SMC won’t likely be affected by fee increases. “It’s difficult to tell. There’s more of a demand [at SMC] than capacity, regardless of the fees.”

Students who qualify for financial aid will receive it, no matter how much tuition increases, said Rodriguez.

Due to recent budget cuts, course sections offered across California’s community college campuses have already been reduced by 5 percent this fall semester, according to a report from the CCCCO Office of Communications.

Further budget cuts could mean additional class cuts and diminished availability to students, along with higher fees.

In 2009-2010, when California community colleges underwent a $520 million budget cut, an estimated 140,000 students were denied enrollment due to class cuts.

That number is predicted to reach 670,000 in 2011-2012, because of the ramifications of budget cuts and high enrollment demand, with more than 2.5 million students already enrolled in the California community college system.

“The $10 per unit fee increase is anticipated to generate approximately $110 million for the colleges to support an additional 50,000 students,” according to the CCCCO.

However, enrollment at SMC has decreased by more than 2,000 students since fall 2009, when per-unit fees increased from $20 to $26.

Prior to fee hikes, fall enrollment has been increasing steadily since 2006, according to the student demographic data from the CCCCO.

“I would be glad to pay $46 a unit, or more, given that [SMC has] more classes open, and [that the fees] do something to help better the school,” Rosenberg said. “I believe that is more than affordable, even if you work part-time.”

“The reality is that this is a great deal when it comes to education,” said Rodriguez.