Students at several North Texas community colleges will be paying higher tuition starting next spring. Dallas County property owners will also notice a bump on their next tax bill.
College officials say theyâre responding to an increase in the number of students and the cost of education â" and a decrease in state funding and the tax base.
Dallas County students will see the largest jump among nearby districts. Tuition will jump $7 to $52 per credit hour for in-county students at the districtâs seven campuses.
The owner of an average-priced Dallas County home â" $130,199 â" will pay about $20 more per year in property taxes.
Community colleges all over the state are turning to tuition increases because they have no place else to go, said Bill Holda, president of Kilgore College and chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges.
State funding for community colleges covered 68 percent of their budgets in 1980. Thatâs dropped to less than 30 percent. And nonurban districts donât have a large tax base they can hit up for much additional money.
âStatewide, students and their families have had to replace the reduction in state support,â Holda said.
The Dallas County increases were approved at the September meeting of the Dallas County Community College District board of trustees. The vote followed what one board member said was the largest public turnout for board meetings since the 1980s.
Many of the speakers opposed the increases, as did one board member.
But Dallas County has lost $23 million per year in state funding, and a 20 percent jump in enrollment over five years has strained resources, said district spokeswoman Ann Hatch.
Board chairman Jerry Prater, part of the 6-1 vote in favor of the increases, offered an explanation at Tuesdayâs meeting that was later distributed by Chancellor Wright Lassiter Jr.
Prater said the district contained costs by cutting $25 million in expenses over three years, cutting 317 positions since last year, denying raises for district employees since 2008 and deferring maintenance on buildings for several years, with some needs becoming urgent.
At the same time, he said, state funding was reduced, and the effect of the recession on the Dallas tax base cut about $6 million in revenue. He also noted that the tax rate had been relatively flat since 2004.
âThe easy political answer is to say no to the proposed adjustments in tuition and taxes,â Prater said at the meeting. âBut this would mean saying no to our deferred maintenance list that now totals over $86 million, to technology upgrades to support students and their instructional needs. It would mean saying no to employees who work hard to support our students and our operations as a district.â
But board member Bill Metzger doesnât buy that. With the down economy, many people have gone without raises, he said.
âI donât think we should be raising taxes and, worse, tuition to give pay increases,â he said.
With the economy slowly recovering, revenues from local property taxes would be increasing anyway, he said. And as for the maintenance, he said, the district hasnât given him a list of exactly what the needs are and how much they will cost.
âI represent the people in my district,â Metzger said. âThe public testimony was overwhelming in opposition to the increase at this time.â
The tuition increase is expected to bring in an additional $6.6 million. The tax boost is expected to bring in an additional $32 million. The districtâs total budget this year is $501.4 million.
Spending with the increased money includes $11.4 million in raises, $16.2 million for maintenance and $2 million for new technology needs.
Other community colleges are feeling the same kind of squeeze, said Jesse Jones, president of the North Texas Community College Consortium.
âThey have been under a tremendous amount of pressure with increasing enrollment and decreasing revenues,â Jones said. âThey have to balance it in some meaningful way, or something has to give.â
Dallas is actually later to the price-increase process than some other districts.
Tarrant County had previously agreed to an increase of $3 per credit hour for its in-county students, with no tax boost.
Collin Countyâs schools will also be charging $3 more per credit hour for in-county students. The tax rate will actually drop slightly.
Even Dallas board member Metzger granted that his district needed more money. But he frets that the tuition boost will hit students who have little flex in their personal budgets.
âI would have been willing to talk about a $1 or $2 increase,â he said.
Tuition for North Texas community colleges
Tuition, in-county per credit hour for Spring 2013
North Central Texas
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research