Increase is first at college since April 2015

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FARMINGTON — San Juan College’s tuition rates will be slightly higher starting next semester after the college’s Board of Trustees approved a tuition increase on Tuesday.

The board unanimously decided to increase tuition by $3 per credit hour for resident students and by $9 per credit hour for nonresident students. Residents will pay $49 per credit hour and nonresidents will pay $155 per credit hour starting with the fall 2018 semester.

Ed DesPlas, vice president of administrative services for the college, said the tuition hikes are moderate and that San Juan College remains a relatively low-cost institution compared to similar programs throughout the state and nation.

“Our tuition at $46 a credit hour (for resident students) is well below market,” DesPlas said on Wednesday. “… I define our market in terms of national pricing, our peer pricing and our New Mexico peer pricing, and we’re below it.”

DesPlas said the tuition increase is projected to account for additional revenue of $510,000 in fiscal year 2019.

The college last increased tuition in April 2015, when rates went up by $5 for residents and $23 for nonresidents, DesPlas said.

San Juan College has seen significant decreases in funding over the past three years, DesPlas said, both from general state funds, and from oil and gas production revenue.

“Our funding has been down by about $2 million across last three fiscal years,” DesPlas said. “We are not looking to recover that $2 million from students in the form of tuition. That’s unrealistic, and it would be a barrier to student success to expect that we could recover all of the lost revenue in tuition.”

The college has made deep cuts to programs to respond to funding decreases, DesPlas said, including foregoing replacing and repairing facilities, technology and instructional equipment infrastructure, and reverting to the state’s group benefits plan for employee health care, which saved approximately $500,000.

The tuition rate increases have been an effort to help stabilize the college’s funding, but are not intended to fill the holes from decreased state funding, DesPlas said.

“What we’ve been talking about since August of 2017 … is looking at tuition and managing tuition as a strategic part of our revenue,” DesPlas said. “We discussed that it’s not appropriate to try to get that $2 million back from students, but what is appropriate is that we acknowledge that we have to do what we can to provide stable and sufficient funding for the college.”

The board also discussed changing policy regarding how often tuition and general fees are adjusted. The policy, which was heard in its first reading on Tuesday, would have tuition adjusted every other year based on consumer price index, state funding, property tax revenues and oil and gas production revenue, according to information from San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass.

The policy update also includes the elimination of a credit cap, a commitment to staying competitive with tuition rates of peer programs throughout the state, and a reassessment of general fees every other year “based on specific college-wide needs,” Pendergrass said on Tuesday.

Raymundo Payan, president of the Associated Students of San Juan College, said though students generally agree with the need to raise tuition, some were concerned about the elimination of a tuition cap. Traditionally, students who take heavy course loads have not paid tuition for classes past the typical course load of 18 credits. However, the board could eliminate that practice if the policy revisions are approved in a second reading at the April 3 board meeting.

“Most students were OK with tuition going up, but the only thing that they were not OK with was (eliminating) the cap of 18 credits,” Payan said at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that several programs — including automotive, cosmetology and fire science academies — are different than traditional programs and require heavier course loads, and some students choose to take heavy course loads in order to finish programs at an accelerated rate.

DesPlas said the elimination of the cap is not meant to penalize students who take heavy course loads and that the elimination will affect less than 5 percent of the student population.

“It only affects 233 students, so what we’re doing benefits the other 7,000 or 8,000 students that we have at college,” DesPlas said.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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