Taking a GED or ESL class at Colorado Mountain College costs about $40 right now. Starting this summer, school officials were planning on charging twice as much, but now that price increase is on hold until the fall.
It’s a striking jump in fees, given that GED and ESL students often are in low-income brackets. CMC Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi was one of those who decided the price hike was a good idea. He says the college’s budget is a key factor.
“Here in Garfield County, oil and gas has declined considerably,” he said at CMC offices in mid-April. “So we are facing up to a $4 million decrease in property taxes this year.”
That drop is for the overall CMC budget. Even with property values going up, the revenue coming in from property taxes is going down. There’s less money coming in from students, too. Instead of taking classes, they’re working in the strong job market.
And CMC’s expenses are going up because of a long overdue pay raise for instructors and health care costs. So Gianneschi has been looking for ways to cover that gap. Tuition will be increased this year for a wide range of students.
And Gianneschi said, so far, the two programs in question haven’t been paying their way.
“For ESL and GED, the level of subsidization that the college provides for those students is the highest of any student population in the entire college. Period,” he said.
At the same time, those class fees are far lower than in similar programs.
“We had looked at what our comparability was, statewide,” Gianneschi added. “Even with the rate increase, it was the lowest cost ESL program in the state of Colorado.”
So CMC decided to bump up ESL and GED prices, too, from $10 to $20 for the equivalent of a credit hour, coming out to total of $80 a class instead of $40. That would add up to approximately $100,000 more collected each year. With that increase, the total amount in ESL and GED fees would cover about 14 percent of the money needed to run those programs.
CMC instructors raised concerns about the plan, saying it wasn’t clear if their students could afford it. Faculty contacted by Aspen Public Radio said they were uncomfortable doing recorded interviews about the issue because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.
The college board of trustees has now decided to delay the price increase until the fall. And officials are looking to a large faculty task force for input.
“The goal of the task force ... is to make sure the ESL and GED classes remain affordable and accessible to our students in the community,” said Yvette Myrick.
Myrick is dean of developmental education and adult education. She and others are trying to find ways to still cover CMC’s funding gap while still keeping classes “affordable and accessible.”
In the meantime, the board of trustees has created a new $25,000 scholarship fund for needy GED and ESL students. That’s coming out of CMC’s reserves.