By NATALIE WRIGHT
After months of debate over tuition for the 2015-16 academic year, the Washtenaw Community College board of trustees passed across-the-board tuition increases at its April 28 meeting.
For the fall, tuition for on-campus classes will be increased by the following amounts: 1.1 percent for in-district students, 2 percent for out-of-district, 2.5 percent for out-of-state and 3 percent for international.
Tuition for online, or distance learning, classes will be increased by substantially more, including: 3 percent for in-district and 4 percent for out-of-district, out-of-state and international.
Tuition will remain at current rates for returning students who register by July 31.
This year’s tuition decision was one of the most rigorously debated topics that the board has seen in years and resulted in the first split votes in recent memory.
“There’s kind of been a tradition that we don’t come to a vote until everybody agrees, which I’ve never really agreed with,” said board Treasurer Pam Horiszny. “To me, this is the way it should be. It reflects a lot of thought, and so I’m comfortable with it instead of always being unanimous.
“We have a different mix of board members now, so I think you will see more of that going forward,” she added.
After the college’s administration presented several tuition scenarios at the board’s February retreat, trustee Dave DeVarti set his sights on achieving a zero percent increase for in-district students.
Through their taxes, county residents already fund nearly half of the college’s budget, DeVarti said. This should be reflected in substantially lower tuition.
“Why should an out-of-state person pay, what the staff is proposing, just a dollar more per credit hour (for online classes)?” DeVarti asked, “It’s almost comical.” The trustee presented an alternative tuition resolution that kept in-district tuition at the current rates for both on-campus and online classes.
When this idea was brought up at the previous meeting, trustees and administrators shared concern that with unpredictable enrollment, the college could not afford to risk decreased revenue.
To compensate for the lost revenue, DeVarti’s proposal suggested a hefty hike in online tuition for out-of-district, out-of-state and international students. After these hikes, his proposal produced greater revenue than the administration’s scenario.
WCC Chief Financial Officer Bill Johnson warned that DeVarti’s scenario did not account for enrollment, which would likely be negatively impacted by the online tuition increases.
“We are still a bargain,” DeVarti countered. “We’re the second least expensive if we choose my rates.”
Only Wayne County Community College would be cheaper he noted.
WCC President Rose Bellanca interjected, pointing out that Wayne’s online offerings are “very, very, very robust” and are stiff competition.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean WCC’s enrollment would decline if rates were higher, said trustee Ruth Hatcher.
“Distance learning is very popular, and they can’t get it any cheaper anywhere else,” Hatcher said. “So I don’t see how it affects the enrollment as much as you’re implying. Students want distance learning.”
Distance learning is expensive to provide and develop, she added, and that cost should be reflected in the tuition.
DeVarti finished his petition by aligning his goals with President Obama’s.
“There is a great debate in this country about keeping college affordable, and even the president has weighed in that community college should be free,” DeVarti said. “Well, we should do what we can. We may not be able to do free without federal support, but if we can hold the line, we should do it.”
But when it came time to vote, DeVarti’s arguments did not have the desired effect. He and the two other trustees that are new to the board, Hatcher and Christina Fleming voted ‘yes,’ and the other four trustees voted ‘no.’
After DeVarti’s resolution was struck down, the board voted on the administration’s proposal, which passed 5-2, with only DeVarti and Hatcher voting ‘no.’