Tuition Increase: Interview with Administration

By Rory Elliott|February 19, 2019News, Top Stories|

DSC at the February 1st Town Hall at Cascade Campus Rory Elliott for The Bridge

 

Community College Students of Oregon are likely facing a massive statewide raise in tuition. According to PCC’s administration, students can expect a minimum of 6% rise in costs per credit. As of now, a credit per term costs around $111 for in state students at PCC. At best, in state students will be expecting a $6.66 increase per credit each term. For in-state full-time students, this means a 12 credit term will cost an extra $80.

On top of this drastic tuition increase, PCC’s finance department reported that they are also expecting to implement layoffs and major budget reforms.

According to Eric Blumenthal, PCC’s interim VP of Finance and Administration, all of these changes are being made with the intention of addressing a budget shortfall of near $14 million; this shortfall is caused in large part by a state-wide deficit that Governor Kate Brown’s administration is currently grappling to compensate for. This state-wide deficit is not only having an impact on Oregon Community Colleges, but on all Oregon public schools. Though, It is clear to members of the District Student Council (DSC) that there is a disproportionate amount of the deficit landing on the shoulders of Community College Students.

Dark as things may seem, the DSC has been working since May 2018 to protect students from the tuition increase. The DSC’s advocacy has ranged from meeting regularly with PCC administrators, to engaging local government in conversations about the increase. Statewide, they are currently organizing a lobby group to engage government leaders in dialogue about tuition increase. In partnership with Oregon Community College Student Association, the DSC is also working to push House Bill 2642. This bill would, among other things, ask for an appropriation of $647 million from the General Fund to the Community College Support Fund by July 1st, 2019.

 

The Bridge was able to ask the Finance Department some questions regarding the tuition increase, and the overall effect of Oregon’s Pension deficit on Portland Community College.

Interview with PCC’s interim Vice President of Finance and Administration

Eric Blumenthal.

Q: In terms of the relationship between the District Student Council and the budget management administration, what has been working well?

A: What jumps to mind is the increased frequency of our meetings and enhanced communications with the District Student Council on the development of the next biennial budget. We have regularly met with the DSC to discuss the nuances of the budget process and the potential for a tuition increase. Meetings began last year, in May, to talk about the college’s budget process and the DSC’s internal process for determining any change to the student activity fee. Conversations continued over the summer, including at the leadership retreat at Silver Falls. These conversations have been helpful for all those involved, as the issues at stake — the state’s investment in higher education, the enrollment decline, and tuition rates — impact the college’s business operations and affect all our students. That being said, I’d like to thank the DSC for allowing time on their meeting agenda to address these issues together. The conversations have not always been easy, and I appreciate the willingness to listen, ask questions, and help formulate responses.

Administration continues to partner with the DSC on budget forums focused on students and student issues. Two such sessions already took place in January. These student-focused forums were in addition to five other budget forums hosted throughout the college in January and open to all students, faculty and staff. I am pleased that students took the time to come out and ask great questions. A third student-focused budget session is slated for Monday, Feb. 25 at Sylvania Campus, from 1-3 p.m. We’re promoting this upcoming session heavily, to hear from as many students as possible. PCC is hosting a resource fair in conjunction with this budget forum, with representatives from financial services, financial aid, and the PCC Foundation.

Finally, in response to what we heard from student leaders, we have increased student representation on the newly formed College Budget Planning Committee (CBPC) from two members to four. It’s important for administration to understand student concerns and duly recognize them as active participants in the budgeting process.

I look forward to a continued partnership with student leaders as we collectively work to adopt a new biennial budget by July 1. Enhanced communication enables us to be nimble, so that we can capitalize on opportunities to engage students and educate them about priority budget issues.

 

Q: Do you think that the hopeful cap at $6 per credit will hold?

A: I want to be careful here on using any per credit tuition increase number before the board has convened and approved tuition increases. I expect that will happen later this month, at the Feb. 28 board meeting. The board asked in January that a decision on tuition increases be deferred until a later date in order to solicit more feedback and get a better indication of the overall budget picture. Based on our budget reality, a tuition increase is highly likely. PCC is being conservative in its modeling and is developing a spending plan based on the current level of state support to the Oregon community colleges. We are hopeful that the recommendation for tuition increases, to be approved by the board, doesn’t have to be revisited during the next biennium. In fact, the college is open to considering a tuition rollback if state support comes in at a higher level than is being budgeted. We hope the board will consider that, as well.

Unfortunately, there are many budget complexities to consider as part of this tuition conversation — the state’s budget situation, the college’s budget, new state revenue packages, enrollment, and more. We’re being as thoughtful, collaborative and proactive in our planning as possible based on the data and information we have at this time.

 

Q: During Associate Vice President of Finance Dina Farrell’s presentation to the District Student Council on February 1st, she briefly mentioned potential layoffs. I was wondering if you might be able to elaborate a bit on that.

A: Sure. As we have mentioned throughout the budget process, we are currently dealing with a budget shortfall of nearly $14 million. We will have to close that budget gap and present a balanced budget to the board to consider in April and again in June, when the board adopts a balanced General Fund budget for the new biennium (the General Fund is the college’s main operating account). The President and the President’s Cabinet agreed to a budget development process, asking the campuses, divisions and units to plan for a 3 percent targeted reduction as a means of balancing the budget. We will attempt, however, to avoid simply making a 3 percent across-the-board cut. We want, and need, to be strategic.

Since the college’s General Fund expenditures are more than 80 percent personnel related, it is inevitable that some budget cuts will involve personnel expenditure lines. All General Fund programs across the college are being evaluated, with reduction proposals presented by each campus, division and the college leadership team. Layoffs may be part of the budget reduction reality, but it is just as likely that personnel reductions may come from attrition or by leaving vacant positions open for an extended period of time. As part of this strategic process, current service levels, students’ needs, investments in YESS and enrollment planning, and equity considerations will be assessed and considered.

 

DSC at the February 1st Town Hall at Cascade Campus
Rory Elliott for The Bridge

 

If you are wanting to participate in the Student Budget and Tuition Forum details are below:

What:

  • The Student Budget & Tuition Forum will serve as an opportunity to discuss PCC’s budget complexities, state funding (or disinvestment), tuition rates, available PCC resources for students, and the importance for students to share their voice with the legislature related to the budget and tuition.
  • President Mitsui and other administrators will participate in the Q&A.
  • Complimentary pizza will be available — come join us for conversation over lunch!

When:

  • Monday, Feb. 25
  • We will host a discussion/Q&A from 1-2 p.m., followed by a Resource Fair from 2-3 p.m.

Where:

  • SYL Campus, Conference Rooms A&B, College Center Building
  • The discussion portion will be streamed on a platform to enable students at remote locations to call or email questions.

    Updated: March 6th, 2019, 2:45 pm

    The Bridge has been made aware by administration that there were a few corrections necessary for the article Tuition Increase: Interview with Administration by writer Rory Elliott.

    According to PCC’s administration, students can expect a minimum of 6% rise in costs per credit.

    This percentage was inconsistent with Eric Blumenthal’s responses to the question of a $6 rise in tuition costs. Administration states that there is a possibility of a 3% increase across the board to all of PCC, but that there are alternatives to a 3% rise if a tuition increase does indeed need to occur. Our writer understood the percentage being 6% because of multiple usages of that percentage by Dina Farrell and the DSC when analysing a cap on increases. The administration has not backed this percentage as a hopeful cap, but rather stand by Eric Blumenthal’s response.


    As of now, a credit per term costs around $111 for in state students at PCC.    

    For in state students, a per credit tuition charge is exactly $111.

    At best, in state students will be expecting a $6.66 increase per credit each term.

    This is a miscalculation using the now defunct idea of a 6% tuition increase.


    On top of this drastic tuition increase, PCC’s finance department reported that they are also expecting to implement layoffs and major budget reforms.  

    For financial services, this is not a guarantee for PCC as the sentence seems to claim. In terms of personnel reductions, Eric Blumenthal has stated that; “Layoffs may be part of the budget reduction reality, but it is just as likely that personnel reductions may come from attrition or by leaving vacant positions open for an extended period of time.”

    The Bridge would like to apologize for any unnecessary concern these mistakes may have caused. At the Bridge we are committed to providing our readership with accurate and up-to-date information. We acknowledge that mistakes happen from time to time, and will always do our best to correct any mistakes made. Always feel free to send corrections or concerns to our editor at miriam.vonnahme@pcc.edu or to our faculty advisor at Raymond.Quinton@pcc.edu

     

     

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