However, community college is becoming a little less affordable in some areas, with the current economic slowdown forcing many schools to hike up tuition rates in an effort to combat rising costs and decreased funding.
In Tucson, Arizona, Pima Community College is considering increases in tuition rates for some of their more popular programs. The school is facing financial shortfalls after having state appropriations cut by more than 30% over the past two years. Roy Flores, the college's chancellor, told Inside Higher Ed, "It looks like we'll have budget cuts for the foreseeable future…As we get squeezed from every corner, I'm concerned about the future of our occupational programs and our ability to respond to people who get laid off and need new skills to get back on their feet."
Instead of raising actual tuition rates, Pima is considering a premium charge of 10-30% on popular programs like nursing and avionics. The charge would be phased in slowly, rather than getting assessed in a single expensive bill. Flores does not believe the addition of a premium charge would price many students out of the opportunity to pursue a degree through Pima.
While four-year public colleges in Maryland have been dealing with tuition freezes for the past four years, community colleges have found themselves unable to follow suit. These schools have been hit hard by the economic slowdown and drops in state and local funding. As a result, some schools have been forced to assess modest increases to tuition rates, which have still kept the price of community college well below that of four-year institutions.
According to the Maryland Reporter, tuition and fees have increased at community colleges about 6% between 2007 and 2009, and schools are facing another approximate 2% increase this year.
In Kansas, the Pratt Tribune reports that Pratt Community College has also announced tuition hikes for the next academic year. Increases will be minimal – just $1 per credit hour for in-state tuition and $2 for out-of-state students. Fees will also increase by $1 both for general and concurrent fees.
The school was forced to assess tuition increases to meet future operation costs and other expenses, a school official told the Tribune. While the tuition increase puts Pratt in the top third of community colleges in the state, the lower class sizes allows students to receive a higher quality education.
The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges has also announced tuition increases for community colleges across the state, according to a report in The Olympian. The 7% increase will raise tuition costs by about $200 per academic year.
The increase reflects the maximum amount authorized by legislature earlier this year and will be used to make up a portion of the government cuts community and technical colleges are currently facing.
In Louisiana, similar tuition hikes are taking place, both at four-year public colleges and community colleges. The tuition increases will total between 8% and 10% and will be used to offset more than $250 million in cuts that have already been assessed and another $300 million in cuts that are expected. Students in Louisiana are not happy about the increases, particularly in light of the fact that nothing else on the campuses has changed for the better.
"They're still cutting classes," Southern University student Shikinley Mitchell told Houma Today. "There's no better programs. There's no new equipment. There's nothing to show where the extra money is going." Despite the grumblings, school officials in the state note that Louisiana schools are still some of the least expensive throughout the southern part of the country.
A sluggish economy is affecting the country on many different levels, and community colleges are no exception. Many schools across the country, when faced with rising operational costs and decreased funding from state and local governments, have been forced to take the next logical step. By increasing tuition rates, the colleges are able to continue offering the courses and programs students need to find good jobs in a changing workforce after graduation. It may not be the ideal, but it is the best solution anyone has been able to suggest thus far in the realm of higher education.
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