Initiative would forever change the way fees are levied on students.
On February 5th, many of us will file into our polling places with one name on our mind. Maybe that name is Obama, or Romney, Clinton or McCain. There is another name, however, and it may be one that could redefine the fees for a community college education.
Prop 92 is a change to the State Constitution, and it proposes changes to community college funding requirements, fee levels, and system governance.
Currently, community colleges and K-12 schools are funded through Prop 98. K-12 schools have minimum funding levels, although community colleges do not. Each year, a prop 98 formula calculates a new minimum requirement based on the economy and K-12 attendance. In other words, when attendance is down, and the economy is down, less money is put aside for schools. Community college enrollment is not included in that calculation.
This poses a problem for community colleges like College of the Canyons here in Santa Clarita. While K-12 enrollment numbers are dropping, community college enrolment is rising. Sue Bozman, Public Affairs officer for College of the Canyons, told KHTS that there are a variety of factors that explain this. “When the economy declines, statistically our enrollments go up,” she said. Bozman went on to explain that COC services a wide variety of students, ranging from professionals looking to sharpen or learn new skills, to occupational learners, to students fresh from high school.
According to the Secretary of State’s Legislative Analyst, Prop 92, if passed, would set a minimum funding level specifically for community colleges so that they can be analyzed independently. They will be subject to the same criteria, with one exception; population growth for those aged 17-22 and 22-25 will be analyzed in place of K-12 attendance. This hopes to more accurately determine the need for community colleges and set aside the necessary money out of the general fund or local property taxes.
The second change would directly impact the wallets of prospective students. Community colleges were designed to be free of charge, and up until 1984, that was the case, (although to this day roughly 25% of community college students don’t pay any fees, as they qualify for low income tuition assistance). Since then, the cost of an education was subject to frequent and inconsistent rising and falling.
If prop 92 is passed, it would drop the price from its current level of $20 per unit to $15 per unit. It would also implement a new procedure that would dictate how the price goes up in the future. Basically, any increase in the fees would need to be passed out of both the Sate Assembly and the State Senate by a 2/3 vote. Also, the annual fee increase would be limited either 10%, or the “percentage of change in per capita personal income in California.” The Secretary of State reports that this averages 4%.
If passed, the fee decrease for community college enrollment will be established in time for the fall 2008 registration period.
Overall, prop 92 is not itself a new tax or bond. It is an assurance that the state will provide some form of minimum amount of money to community colleges, an assurance much like the one K-12 education has. The additional money will come from the state’s general fund.
To read more on this proposition, you can visit the California Secretary of State’s analysis at http://www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov/title_sum/prop_92_title_sum.html  .