Fee increase equals greater need for financial aid

Student fees (MaryAnne Shults)

MaryAnne Curry Shults

Once again, the Governor is asking students help balance California’s budget deficit as community college enrollment fees will jump to $46 per unit this summer. More will likely depend on financial aid to cover the increase, officials say.

In December, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered $1 billion in midyear spending reductions, according to the Associated Press. These reductions mean community colleges will lose about $1 million each in the midyear budget shortfall. The subsequent fee hike represents a 77 percent increase in student fees within a one-year period, reports the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

How to make ends meet? One scenario is to get a Board of Governors’ fee waiver. A surprising 30 percent of Saddleback College students and 6 percent of Irvine Valley College students have their tuition set aside, college officials report. This puts more pressure on the system because less revenue goes back into state coffers, officials said.

“I’m mad at the cost jump but my education is worth it,” said Cody Boukather, 18, mechanical engineering. “I didn’t know there was a fee waiver and I want to look into that.”

The IVC freshman said he wasn’t aware that financial aid like the fee waiver was available.

A hit to the gut as midyear cuts are more than anticipated.

A statement by California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott was issued earlier this week stating that the California Community Colleges system will take another $149 million unexpected cut.

The state system is the largest system of higher education in the country, composed of 72 districts and 112 colleges. The system serves 2.6 million students per year.

The reason for the unexpected budget cuts largely comes from the higher demand of student fee wavers and tax revenues that were lower than expected.

The Chancellor said his office is working to convince Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature to restore funding for the current fiscal year.

For the 2011-2012 budget, the system had its budget cut by $400 million, with an addition “trigger” cut in December resulting in $102 million extra being taken out of the budget. Since 2008, the system has had its budget slashed by a total of $809 million, or a full 12 percent reduction.

Nevertheless, to qualify for a fee waiver, a student has to show financial need, complete a simple form, and he or she need not pay the per-unit enrollment fees. There are three financial eligibility criteria including those receiving cash assistance from programs such as CalWORKS, students whose family’s income falls at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. For 2011-2012, that equates to a family of four with a gross adjusted income of less than $33,075. The third level is determined by a student’s individual needs.

Additionally, colleges are required by state law to waive enrollment fees for spouses and children of disabled or deceased veterans, deceased law enforcement and fire fighters.

Fee waivers are not, however, only given to students who fit in the low-income bracket. Students demonstrating need on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid are also eligible. A full-time married student with one child and joint income of $83,000 could receive $180 in need and be eligible for a full fee waiver, according to a report by the The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

“Brown’s new budget ties community college financing to meeting performance goals, such as preparing students for transfer to four-year colleges,” wrote political columnist Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee.

One of the recommendations is to require students receiving a BOG fee waiver to identify an educational plan, not have more than 110 units, and be required to show academic progress. The idea is to encourage students to get through the system faster.

“If the 110-unit limit went into effect this year, it would impact about 400 students,” Saddleback Director of Financial Assistance Christian Alvarado said.

Alvarado said with fees increasing, more students will qualify for financial aid.

IVC’s Director of Financial Aid Darryl Cox concurs.

“Hard economic times always increase the number of aid applications,” Cox said. “Fee increases always create hardships for those not on aid.”

The number of IVC applicants for the fee waiver has nearly doubled since 2009-2010.

“Our applications total for ‘09-’10 was 6786 and in ‘10-’11 our applications totaled 9312,” Cox said. “So far for the ‘11-’12 cycle we have 11062 applications.”

I encourage all students to apply for FAFSA, regardless of income levels,” Alvarado said. “Let us determine if you are eligible.”

He said students can still apply to have fees waived for this semester. Deadline is March 2.

Both colleges provide comprehensive information online, including office hours, links to forms and applications, types of financial aid, contacts, and more. Visit http://www.saddleback.edu/fao/ or http://www.ivc.edu/student/finaid/.