CIP expansion, reduced state appropriations and increased exempt tuition create financial need.
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
The board of trustees debated the district’s priority of dual credit students and a potential tuition increase at the special board meeting Oct. 7 at Palo Alto College.
Dr. Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the district is poised to experience a “perfect storm” in 2018.
As state appropriations are down, tuition-exempt enrollment is up and the $450 million Capital Improvement Plan will cause an increase in maintenance and operation costs.
Snyder said the disparity between gross tuition and exemptions and waivers is larger than the district has seen in past years. She said gross tuition in the district is $1.9 million more than budgeted for, but exemptions and waivers were $2.9 million more than budgeted.
Snyder said the district was able to avoid raising tuition rates in the past because of the consistent increase in tax revenue, but the increase in maintenance and operations costs after the CIP implementation will require a tuition increase if the board does not want to raise the tax rate.
District 2 trustee Denver McClendon said the board has been discussing dual credit for years and asking if the district was “breaking even” between revenue and exemptions.
McClendon asked if the cost of dual credit students should be passed on to the school districts to avoid losing money.
Snyder said her department provided numbers detailing the revenue deficit. She explained that the school districts already have a cost because Alamo Colleges and the school districts agreed to a cost-share model.
Snyder said school districts provide faculty and the Alamo Colleges pays a stipend to alleviate the cost of faculty. She said the district charges school districts $100 per class section offered at this district.
McClendon asked if the decreased tuition revenue was a short-term problem.
Snyder said the problem was not short term. She said the revenue shortfall reflects the board’s decision to avoid raising tuition, the decrease in state appropriations and the 100 percent tuition waiver for dual credit students.
District 4 trustee Marcelo Casillas asked if the district would still lose money if the native student population, which is students who enroll directly at Alamo Colleges, increased and asked why the tuition-paying enrollment is flat.
Snyder said an increase of student population would not resolve the issue if exempt enrollment continues to grow. She said tuition-paying enrollment tends to decrease when unemployment is low and increase when unemployment increases because people without jobs go back to school.
Snyder said the Alamo Institutes and Alamo Enroll initiatives should allow the district to increase native student enrollment.
McClendon asked if there are alternative solutions to the revenue shortfall to avoid a tuition increase.
District 5 trustee Roberto Zárate said the board needs to review the reimbursements the school districts are receiving for dual-credit hours because dual credit students are meeting the requirements for a category of state appropriations, which is student success points.
Zárate said there are three categories for state appropriations, including general appropriation, core operation and success points.
Zárate said dual credit programs are an unfunded state mandate, allowing school districts to take advantage because the college districts absorb most of the cost while school districts stand to benefit.
In opposition to a tuition increase, McClendon said the board’s priority should be native students rather than dual credit students.
He said college students would suffer from a tuition increase.
District 1 trustee Joe Alderete argued McClendon was “segregating” college-only students from dual credit students, saying they are both important.
McClendon asked if the revenue shortfall would exist if the district did not have a dual credit program.
Snyder said no.
Alderete defended the dual credit program and asked how the board can save good programs.
He said there are school districts ready to “jump ship” because the dual credit program is too expensive.
McClendon argued the dual credit program should not be supported to the detriment of native students, using the sale of doughnuts as a metaphor.
“So if I sell doughnuts, and I give the doughnuts away, I’m going to move more doughnuts,” McClendon said. “Which is correct, but for the sustainability of your business, it’s not doing it.”
Alderete responded, said the board was not talking about doughnuts but students.
“I understand what you’re saying,” Alderete said. “But, this is not a doughnut. This is part of the future of our city and our county and our state.”
McClendon said the board needs to find a way to advocate for both native and dual credit students.
Casillas reminded the board that the dual credit program is a tax-funded initiative and said dual credit students pay taxes.
In response to Snyder’s presentation, Zárate said the history of tuition increase should show the change in cost per dual credit hour rather than a percentage increase.
He said seeing a 5 percent increase makes him think, “We’re going to kill these kids,” but he could understand an increase of a few dollars per credit hour.