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College presidents discuss tuition increases

When it comes to the idea of tuition increases at community and technical colleges in West Virginia, officials are of two minds.

Presidents from the state institutions recently passed a resolution that proposes no tuition increases for next budget year if Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin does not cut their state funding.

At the same time, the presidents also are discussing a change in how they charge tuition, and Chancellor James Skidmore of the state Council for Community and Technical College Education said it would lead to higher student costs.

"It is a tuition increase for those students who take beyond 12 credit hours now," Skidmore said Tuesday during a state legislative committee meeting.

Right now students are considered full-time if they take at least 12 credit hours per semester, Skidmore said. To graduate with a two-year degree on time, Skidmore said a student must take at least 15 credit hours per semester. Most students don't take more than 18, he said.

Those who do take more than 12 credits are getting a deal on tuition.

"They're paying a full-time rate at 12 credit hours. So the six additional hours, they're not paying for," Skidmore said. "If you charge them on a per-credit-hour rate, obviously they'd be paying for those additional hours."

The new price would vary among institutions just as tuition rates do now. However, Skidmore said the method for determining that rate is the same for every institution.

Under the new system, a school would divide its full tuition rate by 12 to determine the per-credit-hour rate. Then it would add that dollar amount onto a student's bill for each additional credit hour he or she was taking, he said. 

Most states use the per-credit-hour billing system, Skidmore said.

The change would affect every institution differently because the number of full-time students at each school is different, Skidmore said. However, he told legislators preliminary figures show the changes would more than account for the proposed reduction in state budget dollars. 

The community college council has not yet considered the change, and it would take legislation to change the credit-hour pay rate, Skidmore said.

Skidmore could not rule out the chance the community college council would move to enact the change even if the community and technical colleges were exempt from the budget cuts. 

"I'm not saying that . . . we'd have to have that discussion," Skidmore said.

Tomblin told all state agencies this summer to prepare for a 7.5 percent budget cut in the fiscal year that starts next July 1. The school aid formula and some other programs will be exempt, but state officials believe the cuts would save the state $85 million. There is an anticipated $390 million budget gap for the next fiscal year.

As Skidmore previously told the Daily Mail, 7.5 percent cuts would mean nearly $5 million less for community and technical colleges next year. He presented those figures Tuesday to the legislative committee.

Chancellor Paul Hill of the state Higher Education Policy Commission told the committee the cuts would take more than $19 million from the state's four-year institutions. An average 4.8 percent tuition increase at each institution would be needed to offset that, he said.

That translates to an average increase of $261 for in-state students and $624 for out-of-state students, Hill said.

He does not think such tuition hikes would have a serious effect on out-of-state student enrollment because prices still would be very competitive for those students.

Less funding and subsequent tuition increases could affect the Promise Scholarship program, he said.

If college prices continue to rise and the amount provided by the scholarship - a popular state program that awards funds to West Virginia students with above-average grades and test scores - stays the same, there could be an issue, Hill said.

"If that occurred, we would have a serious problem with Promise," Hill said. "If the funding was cut, we would not have enough funding to serve all of the students."

The policy commission board already has sent a letter to Tomblin's office asking that higher education be exempt from any budget cuts.

Skidmore said he has more meetings planned with the governor's budget office and would have more concrete details on the impact of the per-credit-hour rate changes at each institution next month. 

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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