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Fee Increases Impact Peralta Community Colleges By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday December 23, 2005

A steep increase in statewide community college student fees is having a definite impact on the Peralta Community College system as a whole, but will probably be mitigated in Berkeley by the impending opening of the new Vista College campus, according to Peralta Board of Trustees Chair Linda Handy. 

That information comes in the wake of a recently-released California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office report noting that an $8-per-unit fee increase initiated last fall has led to a 1.33 percent decrease in community college enrollment throughout the state, a drop of 314,000 students. Tuition rates were raised by the state legislature from $18 per unit to $26 per unit. 

“If you raise tuition that much, you figure there’s going to be a fallout,” Handy said in a telephone interview. 

Handy said the district’s biggest concern is at the College of Alameda, where she said enrollment has had a “significant drop” since last year. 

“There are so many factors involved, it’s hard to pin it down to any one thing,” Handy said. “You have the cost of education, the course offerings, and the location of the college itself.” 

She said, however, that the statewide tuition raises was a factor. 

“This certainly didn’t help,” she said. 

Handy had no enrollment figures on hand for the College of Alameda or Peralta’s other four colleges—Vista, Laney, and Merritt—and the district and college offices were closed for the holiday break. 

But according to Handy, Vista College enrollment should not suffer from fee increases. The new Vista campus is currently under construction in downtown Berkeley, with the move over from the old college location scheduled for the end of the spring semester. 

“I haven’t heard any concerns regarding enrollment problems at Vista,” Handy said. “The new campus is going to be a big draw. In my opinion, enrollment is going to take off like a rocket. Everybody’s excited about it. I’d certainly go there.” 

Meanwhile, the state Chancellor’s Office study gave a grim picture of community college enrollment overall in the wake of the fee increases. 

“It is logical to conclude that the fee increases ... acted as an economic deterrent to students,” the report concluded. “The loss of older students has been significant. ... Almost one-quarter of all students in this age group stated their educational goal was to either ‘prepare for a new career,’ ‘update job skills,’ or ‘maintain certificate or license’... So the disproportionate loss of this group will have an effect on the ability of California’s existing labor force to both retrain for and advance in the future labor market.” 

The report also called the loss of first-time and returning students “even more troublesome.” 

The report noted that an analysis of community college student retention rates before and after the fee increases showed “no trend toward lower-income geographical areas having disproportionate declines in the number of community college attendees.” 

The report concluded that “this outcome points to the effectiveness of the statewide financial aid campaign which targeted these populations.”h