JCCC Board of Trustees candidates on the issues: Reactions to $1 per credit hour tuition increase

Tuition, administration-faculty relations and sports programming have been hot issues at JCCC in recent months.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for Johnson County Community College board of trustees.

Today, we begin publishing the candidates’ responses. The first question was as follows:

In December 2018, the Board of Trustees voted to increase the per credit hour rate for tuition by $1 per credit hour, raising the total cost of tuition and fees for Johnson County residents from $93/credit hour to $94/credit hour. The increase came after three years of no tuition increases. Do you support or oppose the $1 per credit hour tuition increase? Why or why not?

Farha Azaz

The college debt crisis is an issue that has recently taken the spotlight in our national conversation. JCCC is often seen by students as the low cost and debt free alternative to KU and K-State. Many KU and K-State (and sometimes even high school students) will take summer classes at JCCC simply because the credits transfer over and it is much cheaper. Staying cost competitive is how JCCC keeps enrollment high and that in turn adds value to Johnson County. Keeping our tuition low also pressures other schools in the area to keep their tuition low, so even if your kids don’t go to JCCC you should still keep a close eye on this race. JCCC is an economic driver that more than pays for its cost to the community but when tuition increases and we lose our students to out of state schools we are damaging that foundation.

This tuition increase was expected to raise about $460,000 in revenue for the school’s general fund but the actuals were approximately 20% less than projected. Student tuition contributes only a small percentage of JCCC’s operational budget and shifting the financial burden to the students is neither fair nor effective. It is better to focus on controlling costs by increasing efficiency in operational, administrative and management budgets and explore new streams of revenue through collaborative processes with the public and private sector. Failing to do so limits the things that JCCC can do for our students and community.

Our investment in students will lead to a well prepared workforce that will form the foundation of our future prosperity for the next 50 years. Better affordability, a competitive curriculum that is on par with industry trends and a seamless credit transfer process with in-state and out-of-state schools will attract more students and help address the declining student enrollment at JCCC. Considering the average age of students at JCCC is 20 to 24 years of age, every dollar counts.

Mo Azeem

I oppose the $1 increase in tuition. The amount raised as opposed to the decrease in revenue from reducing the mill levy is disproportional. More than the absolute numbers, it’s the philosophy that is at stake here. Who gets impacted the most when we raise the tuition? The answer is, it disproportionately impacts the students with limited personal or family resources. We should be investing in our students to produce high quality work force for the future. When we leave students with limited resources behind we are being unfair to them and trapping them into a spiral of disenfranchisement. We are better than that as a community and I have complete faith in my fellow Johnson County residents to invest in high quality human resource that can attract not only Garmins and Sprints but the Amazons of the world. We must invest in increasing the tax base of our County by attracting more business by offering first rate employees with technical and liberal arts education.

Val Baul

​I do not support the tuition increase. I’ve been told that the tuition increase is small, and therefore, it can be justified. Having attended board meetings and spoken to students, I know that what is small to one person can make a difference between affordable and too expensive.

When the board increases rates, there must be a defined purpose that we can explain to the community and to the students. Where is the rate increase going? Why was $1 chosen? What was the process that led to $1 being the correct amount? None of this was explained to the community, and the $1 increase goes to the general fund, which is difficult to explain to students why it needed to happen.

Unless I believe I can give an answer to the community of where their money is being spent, and what benefit they could receive from it, I will not support raising rates at Johnson County Community College. It is appalling that in one moment we say that the college has so much money it must give it back to developers, and at the same time, short of funding that we ask students who live in Johnson County to pay more.

Lori Bell

I support an increase as long as it is made clear the reasoning as well as the use for the additional funds. In order to establish rate increases, colleges have to look beyond comparison to rural communities where providing faculty has a much higher price per pupil. If we evaluate how the increase will be used, what benefit it provides to the community and students, and why the rate was chosen, we can make sure that the student rates will be better received and understood. Any additional funds from tuition increases I believe should go back directly to the students perhaps as a scholarship or additional programs.

Colleen Cunningham

I do not support the tuition increase. Given the recent 4% drop in enrollment, now is not an appropriate time to raise rates. If anything, basic notions of supply and demand indicate that we should consider cutting rates in order to increase enrollment, particularly for residents of Johnson County. Reducing rates may entice more people to take classes, which would help compensate for reduced enrollment. It would cost the college little to nothing to do this, due to the low marginal cost of adding students.

In general, we should be setting rates carefully and with transparency, so that current and future students can better make plans to attend and understand the purpose of a rate increase. One consideration is that the free lunch rate for Johnson County K-12 students has increased by 59% over the past decade. Given this, access to affordable higher education should be a high priority for Johnson County. Dr Weber (Vice President of Student Success) recently presented information to faculty about a JCCC version of the College Promise initiative, which waives tuition for a subset of hard-working Johnson County residents. I strongly support this initiative, and would like to see it expanded to include more students of all ages in our community.

Jameia Haines

Looking at the history of the College, tuition revenues have dropped to the lowest percentage of the operating budget (approximately 18%) and property taxes have increased to the highest percentage of the operating budget (approximately 66%). Following three consecutive years of holding tuition flat, I support the $1 per credit hour increase just as the Student Senate voted to support the increase.

Nancy Ingram (incumbent)

As a current trustee, I supported the decision to raise tuition from $93 to $94 per credit hour.

Financing for the community college comes from three primary sources; state funding, tuition and the mill levy. As state funding had remained relatively flat over over the past three years and tuition had not increased during that same time period, the decision regarding tuition was an important part of the equation we were
debating. Our taxpayers had seen tax increases over that same period of time, prompting questions about strategically involving additional tax dollars vs. a raise in tuition. General discussion included the suggestion of raising tuition in smaller increments as opposed to a larger increment in future years. As a current trustee,
I supported the decision to raise from $93 to $94 per credit hour. The increase ultimately was passed by the board.

Another factor in my decision was the support we want to provide our students while attending JCCC. Focusing on student success also includes other programs to provide additional support. There have been great strides made in supporting child care while attending classes, as a result of a grant received by the Hiersteiner Child Care Center. We have a food pantry, a meal sharing program and a clothing closet
which are supportive of our students. We have a student emergency fund, and recently began a program of reduced bus fees to further support our students with transportation needs. Additionally, we provide the opportunity to support mental wellness while on our campus. I have no reason to believe that if we know a student has specific needs, we would not have resources to work toward providing assistance to them.

Greg Musil (incumbent)

I am committed to keeping JCCC accessible and affordable. Tuition and fees were held at $93/credit hour for three straight years, something no other area college did. In that time, property taxes paid to the College increased by millions of dollars. A small increase in the costs of attending JCCC was reasonable and would average $7.60 per semester for the average student.

Chris Roesel

I oppose the $1 per credit hour tuition increase.

My reasons are simple. My platform is 1) transparency, 2) inclusion, and 3) beneficial impact on the students, faculty, and community. The decision violates my platform.

To clarify, I took courses at the college Fall semester, ending the second week of December 2018. Despite that, I heard nothing about the Board considering a tuition increase. As a member of the community, my input was not requested. The decision was not transparent nor inclusive. Making decisions this way bars other perspectives. I do not support decisions that are made using bad process.

As examples, look at other decisions the Board made recently, the decisions to do away with the track and cross-country programs. Those decisions were made without transparency and inclusion. As a result, many in the community were offended and spoke out. The Board listened and ignored their input. That is bad decision-making.

I do not support the rate hike decision, a decision made without inclusion, transparency, and analysis of impact on the students and community. As a manager and director of organizations, I have used inclusive, transparent, beneficial processes I learned in business school both in other states and countries, methods including Future Search Conferences and Appreciative Inquiry. Despite my recommending them to the Board, these methods have been ignored.

Cassandra Peters

I oppose the $1 per credit hour increase and find the way the Board of Trustees handled the vote to be very dismissive of the concerns of their students. The Student Senate was given short notice about the increase during finals. When they asked for an extension to be able to get feedback from more students the Trustees denied their request. They would have us believe the $2.5 million cut from the mill levy would have been excess money but the estimated $427,000, that causes a hardship to their students is necessary? Where is the justification for this increase, I have not seen one.

Laura Smith-Everett

I do not support the tuition increase at this time. I don’t feel that the argument for raising the tuition was justified. My top priority as a trustee would always be to provide students with the highest quality education at the lowest cost to them. We know when students leave school with student-loan debt it stifles entrepreneurship, causes them to postpone starting a family, and causes them to delay getting into the housing market. A board that prioritizes lowering the mill level while burdening students with more debt is really prioritizing county developers over citizens. I would argue that we could have kept the mill levy where it was and not increased tuition. Despite no tuition increases over the last 3 years, the board raised fees and tuition some 68% since 2008. This makes community college less attainable than it was 10 years ago.