By JAMIE VERWYS
College students in Arizona might be facing future tuition increases in light of Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget cuts to schools statewide.
Under Gov. Ducey’s plans, community colleges in Pima, Maricopa and Pinal counties are facing budget cuts upwards of $9 million.
Pima Community College officials have been working to develop strategies to respond to impending cuts from the state and declining enrollment numbers, which both contribute to the school’s budget.
“That’s a pressure that’s not healthy for the institution,” said Chancellor Lee Lambert in a phone interview with Aztec Press.
On Jan. 16, the governor unveiled his strategies to close the state deficit in the proposed executive budget. While the budget is still just a starting point for further negotiations with the state legislature, Lambert wrote in an email to college employees, “There is no question we are facing the certain prospect of far less state funding.”
Lambert said funding provided by the state could drop from an expected $6.1 million to $3 million next year.
Four-year state colleges, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, are also preparing for the chopping block.
In total, the executive budget will make a $75 million reduction to universities and $8.8 million to community colleges statewide, according to the proposal.
In his summary, Ducey concluded that as far as community colleges are concerned, “the general fund plays a very minor role in total funding” and “the relationship must be reexamined and adjusted to ensure long-term fiscal stability.”
Lambert said this could affect classes offered at the college.
“So that’s a direct, immediate impact on students,” he said. “Depending on some of the other decisions we have to make, would it impact how many courses and sections of courses are offered?”
Pima receives its primary funding through three main sources: state aid, property taxes and tuition and fees.
Funds from property taxes and tuition are largely affected by the college’s enrollment numbers, which have dropped approximately 9 percent from last year, according to Lambert.
Declines in enrollment were presented to Pima faculty on Jan. 16. Enrollment has dropped by approximately 10,000 to 15,000 students since 2011.
“That’s the equivalent of losing an entire campus,” Lambert said.
When the number of students is reduced, tuition and school fees bring in less money.
Property tax itself does not rely on enrollment numbers, but becomes complicated by expenditure limitations.
“We receive ‘X’ amount of dollars from property tax, but we can extend only up to a certain amount and that’s in part to our enrollment levels,” Lambert said.
“You can have $100 million coming in, but if enrollment doesn’t justify you spending it for certain categories, it gets complicated. We can spend the $100 million, it’s that we won’t be able if our enrollment isn’t an adequate level.”
David Bea, PCC’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, outlined potential financial issues in a special Board of Governors meeting held on Nov. 19, 2014.
“Given the steady drop in our enrollment and the uncertain state financial outlook, it makes sense for the college to start taking a close look at its expenditures and revenues,” Bea said.
Pima is developing an enrollment management plan to try and examine key issues inside the college and out within the community. Lambert attributes the decline in enrollment to a “combination of factors.”
“Growth in Pima County has been fairly flat; it’s not like new people are moving here in droves,” he said. “Also, I think the college, when it made its mission change a few years back, hurt itself tremendously.”
Plans include improvements to online classes, better customer service and a better understanding of student needs.
Ducey’s budget plans are still in negotiation stages and hearings within the Senate and House will run from Jan. 27-Feb. 18.
As far as tuition increases, Lambert states it’s too early to say.
“As you have seen, historically tuition and fees have gone up for Pima. You have to keep them in a large context,” he said. “We are one of the lowest fee and tuition institutions in the state.
“Every college is probably going to be raising tuition, so we will certainly be looking to keep that very modest if we have to do it.”
Lambert notes that what happens before the state’s negotiations of the budget is crucial to the outcome and students can make an impact if they begin now. He suggested students make phone calls and emails to their state legislators.
“You’re the ones who are directly impacted. When I go, I could be seen as the self-interested person, but when you go, you’re going because you’re trying to better your lives. That’s a big difference,” he said.
Anyone interested in learning more about local legislation and impacting state policies may sign up for La Pima, Legislative Advocates for Pima Community College. The site uses geocoding to link you to your legislators’ contact information and connects members with their representatives as well as volunteer opportunities.
For more information, go to pima.edu/administrative-services/state-government.
To download a PDF of the proposed Executive Budget, visit azgovernor.gov/home.