The leaders of Iowa’s 15 community colleges are contemplating large tuition increases to help cover budget cuts from the state. The 10% reduction in funding coincides with a 14% increase in enrollment. Steve Ovel, who works at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, says many of the new students are displaced workers who are seeking new employment skills.
At Kirkwood, students over the age of 25 increased this school year by 33%. Overall enrollment at Iowa’s community colleges climbed above 100,000 for the first time this fall. Ovel, who also represents the Iowa Association of Community College Presidents, says the colleges are preparing for another 10% cut in state funding in fiscal year 2011.
“We’re theoretically looking at a budget situation going into 2011 in which we could find ourselves 30% below where we were two years ago and at a time when we have record enrollment,” Ovel said. “That kind of funding level would take us back to where we were in 1997, when we had about 65,000 to 75,000 students.”
Around 75% of each community college’s budget is spent on faculty. Ovel says the schools can offer early retirement packages to save some money, but furloughs and layoffs aren’t an option because of the record enrollment. According to Ovel, students attending an Iowa community college next year can expect to pay 8% more on tuition.
“We’re going to see tuition increases that none of us are going to be comfortable with,” Ovel said. “What’s happened is that the percentage of our budgets that are supported by state general aid has continued to decline – I think statewide it’s around 39% – so tuition is now supporting in excess of 50% of our budgets. So that’s really the only discretionary area that we have to help us in terms of addressing the general aid budget shortfall.”
The average tuition at a community college in Iowa currently stands at $3,500. An 8% increase would bump that up to around $3,780. Ovel made his comments on the Iowa Public Radio program The Exchange.