St. Charles Community College's decision to raise tuition for St. Charles County students to $90 per credit hour from $85, beginning in June, is disappointing but understandable.
Disappointing in that this is the second consecutive year the Board of Trustees has agreed to raise tuition for local students by $5 per credit hour. Understandable in that SCC, like most other public institutions, is feeling the pinch to its budget in a still-sluggish economy.
Officials consider the increase in tuition — one of SCC's three main sources of revenue — necessary to counter cuts in state funding the last two years and more cuts expected this year, as well as the effects of declining assessed valuation on property tax revenues. As reported recently by the Journal's Russell Korando, the college expects to receive $6.5 million in state aid for the 2012-13 fiscal year, down from $8 million in 2009-10.
We don't fault the college for trying to generate more revenue in order to maintain programs and services beneficial to students and the community. Certainly, students should pay a fair share for the education they receive from a tax-supported institution, and last year's tuition hike was the college's first since 2006.
Nevertheless, given the fact that SCC President Ronald Chesbrough has only been on the job since October, we are compelled to remind officials of a point we have made on this page in previous years, one that should be familiar to trustees. That is, the opportunity to offer local students a more affordable option for pursuing higher education was one of the primary reasons for establishing the college in 1986 — and one of the main selling points to voters who approved the proposal to create the college district and a property tax for it.
The college, which enrolled more than 11,000 students last year, has been enormously successful in attracting local high school graduates and adults seeking to continue their education, so much so that it has struggled at times to keep up with the demand while voters have been unwilling to increase the college's original tax rate.
Granted, this isn't a huge increase in tuition, but $5 more per credit hour adds up, and many families these days are struggling to keep up with rising costs of living. Even with the availability of financial aid and scholarships, officials need to be careful not to price out those students for whom the college was created in the first place.
At least Chesbrough, who was hired out of Nebraska to succeed retired SCC President John McGuire, acknowledged the need to look at ways to control costs without reducing services and pointed out that "we're not going about business as usual and just raising our price." His words should be music to the ears of students and taxpayers alike.
Even with the tuition hike, SCC still is a cheaper option for local students than the much higher cost of attending a private college or university or paying an out-of-district fee to attend a community college elsewhere. (Under SCC's new rates, students from outside the community college district, which includes all but the southwestern corner of St. Charles County, will pay $135 per credit hour if they live in Missouri and $203 per credit hour if they are from another state or country.)
SCC officials through the years, in fact, have been fond of saying the college is a bargain for St. Charles County students. The college needs to make sure that doesn't change.