Olympic College tuition to increase 24 percent - Two-year plan coincides with rising tuition at state universities

Jonny Stackhouse, 20, a welding student at Olympic College, was surprised to hear tuition at the school will increase 24 percent over the next two years.  - Julie Fergus/staff photo
Jonny Stackhouse, 20, a welding student at Olympic College, was surprised to hear tuition at the school will increase 24 percent over the next two years.
— image credit: Julie Fergus/staff photo

Jonny Stackhouse was shocked to hear Monday that tuition at Olympic College will rise 24 percent over the next two years.

"That's crazy," said the 20-year-old from Bremerton.

News of 20 percent tuition increases for Washington's universities has grabbed the attention of college students and their parents. But community and technical colleges like Olympic College in Bremerton, who are expected to grow as the cost of university tuition goes up, will face their own steep tuition hikes. The increases are expected to be approved in Olympia Thursday.

Janelle Runyon, spokeswoman for the board, expects the 12 percent increase to be approved.

This would set 2011 fall tuition for full-time students at about $3,500 a year, with another 12 percent increase the following year, bumping up 2013 tuition to about $3,900 a year.

It marks another dramatic uptick in tuition costs at the state's community colleges. Adjusted for inflation and counting the proposed increases, community college tuition has increased about 188 percent since 1968, when full-time tuition was $210 a year, or $1,356 in 2010 dollars.

For students like Stackhouse, who must pay additional program fees on top of increased tuition, the costs can add up quickly. Stackhouse pays about $2,000 above general college fees for welding program equipment.

"It's an expensive class," he said.

Costs of these program fees for the coming fall have not been set yet, since budget approval by the board of trustees has been pushed back later than usual to accommodate approval of the new tuition increase, said Jennifer Hayes, spokeswoman for Olympic College.

Students enrolled in Washington State University's engineering program on the Olympic College campus pay tuition to Washington State, and so they must pay the increased rate of the university, said Dr. Bob Olsen, associate dean for the College of Engineering and Architecture. This tuition is slightly lower than the on-campus tuition of Pullman students because it omits some fees, added Olson.

With system-wide cuts totaling $81 million since 2009, and Olympic College on track to lose $4.16 million since 2009, Runyon said the increase in tuition will only make up for about half of the lost funding.

Olympic College currently anticipates a $2.60 million reduction from state funding for the academic year starting in the fall. Despite higher tuition rates, this still leaves about $1.6 million to be covered by the college through further cuts, said Hayes.

Olympic College has recently reduced operating funds, which cover general instruction and maintenance services, by 19 percent, from $22.12 million in the 2008-2009 academic year to $17.97 million for this coming school year.

Within this period, the college has also laid off 25 classified staff members and 18 administrators, in addition to giving five faculty members voluntary separation agreements.

Beginning this summer, the college will suspend both the manufacturing and the nursing assistant programs. These suspensions will be reviewed on a quarterly basis to determine whether or not the college should offer particular courses from the programs, if the programs need restructuring or if they should be cut altogether, said Mary Garguile, vice president of instruction.

The following programs are already scheduled to be cut after the upcoming academic year: electronics, digital media arts and automotive technology and automotive service center. The college plans these cuts in advance so that currently enrolled students can finish the programs, added Garguile.

Krissy Goodnough, a 28-year-old from Silverdale, understands how hard these cuts can be for students. Goodnough was wait-listed for a medical course in phlebotomy, only to later discover that the college had cut the course.

"It's a good school, but it's hard when they're cutting programs," said Goodnough.

Additionally, Goodnough and Stackhouse both understand the difficulty of paying for the programs that remain after cuts. While neither receive need-based loans, instead using grants to help pay for their schooling, they have seen their peers struggle while financing their education through loans, which has resulted in emotional strain.

"I don't wanna call it depression, but they have to worry about it in the future," said Stackhouse of his friends who must fret about paying off their debt following graduation.

Need-based aid for community college students is determined via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Like students who use the FAFSA to receive aid from universities, students receive an expected family contribution. The government then pledges to cover the difference in the family contribution and total college expenses. For community college students, the amount of aid a student receives is mostly determined by whether the student is classified as a dependent or independent child, said Rachelle Sharpe, financial aid director for the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

According to the January 2011 report from the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, 30,100 community college students used student loans that averaged at $5,404 to supplement the costs of their education in the 2009-2010 academic school year. Of all need-based aid given to community college students in the 2009-2010 academic year, 19 percent was given in the form of loans.

According to numbers released by the board, state funding for these schools has declined by 11 percent since 2009, from $750 million to $669 million this year. With the 2011-13 state budget Gov. Chris Gregoire signed June 15, funding will decline to $592 million, a 21 percent decrease since 2009. Despite funding cuts from the Legislature, community and technical college enrollment has increased from 148,000 students in 2009 to 163,000 students this past year.

Washington's 2010-2011 community and technical college tuition was 3 percent below the national average. After the coming tuition increases, the  board still anticipates Washington's schools will sit below the national average, said Runyon.

Community and technical college tuition rates are set state-wide by the board in Olympia.



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