Senate has its regular and pleasant duties in fall: to fête the Parker recipient (Congratulations, Andy Young!), to welcome new full-time hires and introduce them to the minutiae of their four-year tenure review process (Have fun!), to recognize those who are advancing in Academic Rank (Hello, Assistant, Associate, and Full Professors, Adjunct and other!). But we also have unexpected duties – some of which have arisen during the summer, and which now preoccupy us at the beginning of fall.
One of these is the request by Superintendent/President, Dr. Viar, for all constituencies to confer and advise on the revelation that $10 million of what we had thought was a real – rather than notional – $15 million in reserves is in fact “Accounts Receivable.” This news has implications for all of us as employees, has implications for the institution overall, but should not have dire implications for our students. The latter is the lens through which Senate regards the debt.
On Thursday, September 19th, Executive Vice President of Administrative Affairs, Dr. Culpepper, and Associate Dean of Financial Aid, Dr. Tangalakis, visited Senate during our second meeting of the semester to answer Senators’ questions about the $10 million in unpaid student fees that has accumulated over the last ten years.
Dr. Culpepper told us that many California Community Colleges are in a similar situation – with outstanding student fees in the millions. In fact, this is public record, and the information can be accessed through the Chancellor’s Office website, despite the fact that the “revised” site is more confusing than its former iteration. These debts, evidently, have been accumulating for years. Why? And What has triggered our sudden need to confront them?
It seems that as an institution, we stopped demanding that all fees be paid within 5-7 days of a student’s enrollment at a moment when enrollment itself was declining. The idea was that if we removed the financial pressure to pay for their education, more students would seek one (This is good thinking in terms of student access to higher education, and harkens back to the original California Education Master Plan of 1960 when junior colleges were financially part of the K-14 system. The units were free and the learning was easy, financially speaking. Perhaps a legislative move back to this method of paying for our citizens to constitute a well-informed electorate is good!). The choice to allow students access to education without harassing them for their fees works well in terms of GCC’s overall apportionment because, up until the unveiling of the new Student Centered Funding Formula (grimacing emoji, here!), we received apportionment based on FTES – basically, on how many students we had. So, if we received approximately $5,000 per Full Time Equivalent Student, it was – and may still be – worth running that deficit of unpaid fees.
However, the new funding formula has created various different categories for which we will receive moneys from the state. The ratios of funding per category have been in debate, but the idea that the Chancellor’s Office has shifted funding into the highly questionable territory of “incentives” remains a constant. Under the new formula, Dr. Culpepper told Senators, the college may lose about $3 million a year. Suddenly, those uncollected fees represent money that we’ll need.
Guild will occupy itself with the implications for wages and working conditions.
The institution will be concerned about how to write off the debt and still preserve its ability to borrow money cheaply – to be seen as a good “risk.”
Senate is concerned with how currently enrolled students, future students, and even those alumni who may still owe fees, will be asked to pay. Obviously, collection agencies are an unpalatable resort, as are draconian limits to student fee-accumulation. But Senate will also be generating recommendations for ways to remind students automatically that they may have outstanding fees. At the moment, students do not receive alerts of overdue fees. No emails, pop-ups, or snail mail communications are sent automatically. It’s only when students try to enroll in a future semester that they are informed of unpaid fees (I write from recent experience! Who knew I’d forgotten to pay to take Peggy Renner’s excellent “Women in American History”?). Senate will attempt to address this new fiscal challenge while protecting students’ access to a community college education.
(In case you’re interested, Dr. Culpepper told the Senate that between $4.2 and $4.4 million are owed by currently enrolled students. About 60% of those fees are owed by International Students.)
Lots of money, lots to think about! Don’t hesitate to attend Senate (we need a bigger room!) or to write to Senate Exec with your thoughts on this.