The cost to attend Tennessee's community colleges continues to rise

Will we reach the tipping point for college attendance?  I know several of my colleagues at nearby community colleges are worried about these increases.  Especially those who work with adult students, many of whom attend part time and may not be eligible for financial aid.  Many feel like we have priced adult students out of the market. This comes, oddly enough, at the same time that our funding formula puts a premium on adult students. From Joan Garrett, writing in The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Community college tuition rises as family income falls
Cheaper tuition, a hallmark of community colleges, could be a thing of the past in Tennessee as the state continues to trim higher education funding and push the costs onto students, according to a new national report.

“Concerns about college affordability have most likely been driving many students to community college,” the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education stated in a recent study on two-year college affordability in all 50 states. “If current trends continue, more students will be priced out of higher education altogether.”

In the last decade, the state’s two-year schools have increased tuition by 73.8 percent, making Tennessee one of the states with the most significant change in community college costs over that period. At the same time, the state’s median family income has declined, according to the report released earlier this month.

This month, the Tennessee Board of Regents approved its highest tuition increase at community college in six years — a 9.3 percent hike beginning this fall. Since the recession began in 2007, the board tried to spare two-year schools from tuition increases because they wanted the schools to be accessible to individuals facing lost hours at work or layoffs who wanted to return to community colleges for more training.

But a 1.6 percent increase in employee salaries, approved at the same time as the tuition increase, and the loss of $170 million in federal stimulus funding plus an additional $20 million state cut to the Regents system forced the board to approve the hike.

“The cost of doing business has increased,” said Jeff Olingy, a spokesman for Chattanooga State Community College. “It’s not anything that we look forward to handling or communicating, but above that obligation is the obligation to give these students a good education, and we can’t do anything to jeopardize that.”

At Chattanooga State and Cleveland State Community College, tuition has more than doubled over the past decade, from $1,488 a year for in-state students in 2000 to $3,096 in 2011.

In 2010, Tennessee’s two-year tuition was $400 more expensive annually than the regional average and ranked only below only Kentucky, South Carolina and Maryland among 16 states monitored by the Southeast Regional Education Board.

“This is the year where the largest source of income is not the state. It’s students,” said Cleveland State President Carl Hite. “That should not be the case.”

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