During the Board of Trustees’ regular meeting at Founders Hall on Feb. 2, Dr. Bill Scroggins, president and CEO of Mt. SAC, reported that there will be a student fee increase from $36 to $46 per unit, along with “modifications to Cal Grants and Board of Governors (BOG) restrictions.”
Virginia R. Burley, the Vice President of Instruction, said that the reason the fee went up again is due to the state’s lack of revenue. “[The] state is short on revenue, even with the increase fee to $36. Because so many students are [using the] Board of Governors waiver, [the state] did not get the revenue that [it] anticipated. So what we were told was that [because] 70 percent of students across the state are on BOG waivers, they are paying no fees [for] their courses, and the last report I heard was that 58 percent of students at Mt. SAC are on BOG waivers,” she said.
According to Scroggins’ report to the Board of Trustees on Feb. 29, “The biggest community college news last week was the revelation that the state budget has grossly underestimated the revenue that was projected to come to community colleges from both property taxed and student fees. This means another – but now unexpected – cut to our budget, and the total 2011 – 12 apportionment reductions to Mt. SAC this year is $14,082,097.
Xally Araujo, 21, nursing major, said that she does not understand the fee increase and is wondering where the money goes. “I can’t believe they increased the fee again. The last fee increase was not too long ago—from $26 to $36,” she said.
Others are misinformed about the exact purpose of the fees. Burley said, “Students think that when they pay for their enrollment fees, they are paying for their education, but they are not.”
Kristina Allende, 41, English department chair, has the same understanding as Burley and said, “Fee increases are state decided, so if the fees increase for regular students, they would increase for all of the community colleges. From my understanding, when a student comes to a college in California, most of the fees are paid by the state.”
Allende added, “When a student pays $36 per unit, that’s not the cost of his or her education; it’s being supplemented by the state. By increasing it to $46 a unit… my assumption is that the $46 will go towards the student and the state will have to back file less money for students.”
Araujo has been coming to Mt. SAC on and off for three years because of her financial situation.
She said, “This year I was accepted for the Board of Governors, and the AS scholarship, but it didn’t cover everything so I still had to pay some fees. But every other year I have been paying for all my classes on my own. I never receive help from FAFSA or [receive] financial aid, so it has been really hard.”
Araujo added, “It’s been difficult trying to save up to transfer to a 4-year university and at the same time taking all the classes I need here, so I am really stressed out that I have to work and go to school at the same time because [working] takes time away from studying.”
Allende said that she understands students’ frustration. “When I first began attending Mt. SAC, it was $11 per unit from 1990 – 1992. $11 to $46 is a huge increase,” she said.
Allende said that the issue of tuition at community colleges is a difficult one.
“On one hand, the California community college system is the most affordable college experience in the country. But on the other hand, when it was first instituted at the California community college system, it was meant to be free,” she said. “So we are going from a philosophical idea of [education] being free and that all students can take an advantage of the free education to settling increasing the fees.”
She added, “Even though it’s still the most affordable system in the country, that definitely has an impact on students.”
Araujo’s financial circumstances provide the risk that she may not be able to continue with completing her educational goals as planned. “If they keep increasing it…I [might not] be able to save up to transfer fast enough and I [will] have to take some time off from school,” she said. “This semester is the first time ever that I received the BOG waiver—what if I don’t receive any help from the government next year?”
Christine Arias, 23, merchandise and marketing major, is facing a similar situation to Araujo’s.
She said, “This is my third year at Mt. SAC, and the government pays for my tuition. But I pay for everything else on my own expense. I pay for my textbooks, which cost about $200 – $300 per semester and parking, which costs $40, but I only make minimum wage of $8 an hour, which is about $80 a week.”
Arias continued, “So I think it’s ridiculous that they want to charge more, because everything else is already expensive. If a student just wants to take another class for $46 a unit, it’s like paying for a whole other textbook, or more like double the textbook price.”
Arias said that she would not be at school without government funds, because she has a minimum wage job and does not receive money from her family. “I can only imagine how much harder it is for those students who do not receive any help from the government and [whose families] can’t afford it.”
Even Arias’ current job is not enough to sustain her financial needs. “I am so stressed out because employment is not so great right now. I have a part time job and am trying to find another job that is flexible with my schedule, but I can’t seem to get another. I have so many bills to pay. I need to help out for the family, pay for food, save up to transfer, and am also trying to save up for a car,” she said.
Allende has pointed out that the fee increases are indicative of problems present in the realm of higher education. “I don’t think that college should be for people who are wealthy; it should be accessible to anyone. If we begin to get into an area of fee increase, which is not accessible for everyone, then I think it’s a huge societal issue that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Burley also agreed with Allende, and thinks that some students might get discouraged from continuing their education.
“It’s terrible that many students have to go through this. People get used to paying a certain amount and you already have a budget for it. Just like when the gas prices go up, unless you have a lot of money, if you are paying an extra $15 every time you pay to fill up your gas tank and you rely on your car…to support your life, it’s a horrible blow.”
Burley added, “I suspect that over time, certain people who get so discouraged because they cannot afford it…won’t even try. That’s what I am most worried about, because it’s already hard enough for some people to even think about coming to college. It [education] could become cost prohibited and there won’t even be an option [for students] anymore.”
However, despite their hardships, both Araujo and Arias have not been discouraged and still plan to pursue their goals.
Araujo ultimately wants to transfer to Cal State Los Angeles to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing and comfort children at hospitals.
Arias’ goal is to transfer to Cal Poly Pomona from Mt. SAC in a year, and get a bachelor’s degree in merchandise and marketing before ultimately attending the University of Southern California to earn her master’s degree in business administration. “When I am done getting my degree, I want to move to New York and work for Vera Wang,” she said.
Burley encourages students to make sure every dollar they spend is spent wisely, only sign up for classes that they really need and take them seriously, make educational plans with counselors, and know what their goals are. “I would encourage students to think more about their goals and to be positive in terms of their attitude and make best of the environment that we live in. It won’t stay like this forever. Don’t give up,” said Burley.
- Mikaela Zhao
Online College Beat Editor