By NATALIE WRIGHT
At its last meeting, the Washtenaw Community College board of trustees heard a recommendation from the college’s administration to increase tuition for the fall semester.
The recommended hike would increase tuition for in-district students by 1.1 percent, 2 percent for out-of-district, 2.5 percent for out-of-state and 3 percent for international students and online courses.
Tuition for current students, who register before July 31, would stay at current rates.
Keeping the cost for in-district students low is “recognition of the strong support the college receives from the residents of Washtenaw County,” WCC Chief Financial Officer Bill Johnson said.
The higher increase for international students and online courses is justified by the extra resources the college provides for those students, Johnson said.
While some trustees were quick to sign off on the administration’s proposal, others suggested alternatives.
“I’m going to advocate for keeping that figure (in-district) at 0 percent,” said Trustee Dave DeVarti, adding that since president Obama has committed to making community college free, “We should be doing our part.”
He suggested doubling the increase for online courses to 6 percent to make up the difference.
“When we do that, we’re about $23,000 short of being even with your recommendation,” DeVarti said.
While the college’s enrollment has seen steep drops and stagnation over the last several years, online enrollment is growing.
Johnson expressed concern with raising online tuition too far. In-district students will likely attend the college regardless of tuition increases, he said, so the college should aim to keep out-of-district and online costs competitive.
Although overall enrollment hasn’t grown in years, the administration’s proposal assumes slight increases over the next three years.
The case for raising tuition in past years has been that enrollment declines have caused the college’s finances to take a serious hit. Keeping tuition low, however, could help enrollment to grow once again, suggested Trustee Ruth Hatcher.
“I think keeping a 0 percent increase would be huge for those marketing people going out to high schools,” Hatcher said.
But most of the trustees hesitated to get behind a 0 percent increase.
Board Treasurer Pam Horiszny suggested upping the in-district increase to 2 percent, while keeping the other increases in line with the administration’s proposal.
Trustee Stephen Gill defended the administration’s proposal and suggested the board pass it as-is.
“The college administration does a lot of work on this,” Gill said. “When you come to us and make this recommendation, I feel like I’m listening to the experts, that they know more about this than I do, that they’ve done their homework.
“As a trustee, I believe that the only way I can challenge that is if you’ve gone up against policy in an extraordinary way,” Gill continued. “Otherwise it’s my responsibility as a trustee to accept your recommendation.
“I don’t want to be picking at this and looking at it in different ways, because I think you’ve done your job,” Gill concluded.
But DeVarti held his ground.
“With upmost respect, I propose 0 percent,” DeVarti restated. “My responsibility is to those (constituents and students), not to the administration. Now I trust that you, the experts, can deliver a plan to give us a 0 percent increase.
“I see this as a policy issue. The reason I’m looking at this is to put on the table a demonstration that it can be done,” DeVarti continued. “I may not have found the best way; I found a way.”
Keeping tuition level for county residents could help the board and the college to build trust within the community, DeVarti said.
“For those of you who are worried about a millage, this is a way to build trust,” he said. “Let’s build trust with the taxpayers.”
Board Chair Richard Landau said that he was uneasy with the idea of not increasing tuition, because if enrollment goes south, future students could face much larger increases.
“I’m very nervous about the entire concept of enrollment projections,” Landau said, although he echoed Gill’s faith in the administration and its projections.
The trustees decided to postpone further discussion and a vote on tuition to its April 28 meeting. In the meantime, DeVarti asked Johnson to put together a proposal that would show a 0 percent increase for in-district students.