The Board of Trustees approved a tuition increase for fall 2019. The rates will increase $1, $2 and $3 per credit hour for Johnson County residents, in-state students and metro rate and out-of-state students respectively.
The board voted 5-2 to increase tuition, which is expected to bring $450,000 to the college per semester, according to the 2018-2019 annual budget book. The board decided to raise tuition rates to supplement the college in case there is an economic down-turn and to lower the burden on Johnson County property tax payers.
Tiger Harris-Webster, president, Student Senate discussed the process of increasing tuition at the college.
“The management committee works some of the numbers for the budget with the administration and they bring it to the board, then the board votes on whether to approve it,” Harris-Webster said.
Students at the college pay 20 percent of the school’s overall funds, while property taxes account for 65 percent. A decrease in property values would decrease the funds that go to the college.
Greg Musil, treasurer, Board of Trustees, pointed out that the burden on the Johnson County tax payer is already high, and that students should bridge the gap.
“From 2012 to 2018, the amount of property values that support the college increased from 55 percent to 65 percent,” Musil said. “Now, some people think that is okay, but I just think there should be a balance and that is why I supported the $1 increase.”
According to Musil, the board voted to decrease the mill levy for Johnson County; a “mill” is a tax of $1 per $1000 of assessed property value. The board decreased the property tax rates, or the mill levy, and the college still received more than they anticipated in taxes from Johnson County residents because of the increasing property values.
“In December 2017 we figured out we needed $3 million more to run the budget for the following year, so we said, ‘we are going to take that and assume a 4 percent increase in property taxes,’” Musil said. “The value actually went up 6 percent, so we were going take in another $2.5 million if we didn’t roll the mill levy back.”
Musil believes that the increase is not enough to stop students from attending the college.
“So, when people say we rewarded tax payers with a tax cut last year, no, they had a $3 million tax increase because of the rising property values,” Musil said. “I don’t think $7.46 a semester is going to stop a student from coming here and if you are a full-time student, I don’t think $15 does, but childcare and transportation costs do … but we have funds on campus to take care of that to try and get people to come here.”
Angeliina Lawson, chair, human resources committee, Board of Trustees, disagreed with the tuition increase citing the obligations the trustees have to students.
“It comes down to a moral issue,” Lawson said. “The way we budget, the way we spend our money, where we allocate funds, at the core of it comes to down what our values are and what we stand for.”
Lawson acknowledged the student perspective on the raise and remembers what members of the Student Senate said during the December board meeting.
“You have students burdened with college tuition, trying to make ends meet,” Lawson said. “We had student senators representing their constituents trying to talk to us in that board meeting, saying ‘there are students that will struggle to attend school because they cannot afford the gas.’”
Both Lawson and Harris-Webster agreed that, if there was to be a tuition increase, excluding Johnson County residents is the best option.
“What I don’t understand is that we are going to give back to [property tax payers], but then we are going to pickpocket you when you come to school,” Lawson said. “It is mental gymnastics to me, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t add up.”
The argument for the tuition increase was based on an impending recession, but Lawson feels the college has not been efficient at foretelling recessions in the past.
“In fiscal years ’11, ’12 and ’13 we increased the tuition rate significantly when there was not a recession,” Lawson said. “In fiscal year ’07 and ’08, when the housing market crashed, there was not an increase there.”
To Lawson, predicting a recession might generate consequences beyond a tuition raise.
“[President Donald Trump] is not looking at this as a recession,” Lawson said. “So, I am looking at [the board] going ‘why are you calling this a recession?’ We’re not great predictors of a recession or a growth in the economy, based on our history here, and the more you talk about it the more you are going to cause panic.”
The Student Senate felt they did not have enough time before the vote to adequately represent the student body or take an official position on the tuition increase.
“They vote on the budget in December, which was during finals week, so it was difficult to gain any headway on the tuition increase before the vote went ahead and we found out about the vote a week before it was held,” Harris-Webster said.
“The increase is a small increment and we could support it and I don’t think it would necessarily kill anyone, but it’s the principle of why the board wants to raise tuition that we are on edge about,” Harris-Webster said. “Tuition doesn’t ever really go down you know?”
Tuition increases can decrease enrollment according to Lawson and recent enrollment data shows the number of students attending the college is decreasing overall and has decreased by 6 percent over the last five years.
Lawson said, “In this kind of economy, if we are trying to have seats filled in our class rooms, having a tuition increase could potentially create more empty seats and that’s troubling for me.”
Correction, Angeliina Lawson was misquoted in talking about Trump, the quote has been corrected as of January, 31, 2019.