PHOENIX – Junior college officials say they're seeing an increase in students amid rising costs at state universities and the job market.
Spring enrollment in the Maricopa Community College District jumped nearly 5 percent to 250,000 students. Students registered even before the state's universities imposed tuition surcharges Thursday ranging from $350 at Northern Arizona University to $766 at the University of Arizona.
"We are expecting a major increase in the fall as the universities price people out," said Barry Vaughan, president of the Maricopa Community College District's faculty association.
He said the new charges are a significant increase for freshmen. "You know there will be a percentage of students who were barely affording it before," he said.
Growth at the 10 campuses that make up the Maricopa Community College District ranged from 0.3 percent at Phoenix College to more than 16 percent at the online Rio Salado campus.
"I came here because it's cheaper than the universities," said 18-year-old Sheryl Williams, a student at Paradise Valley Community College. "It's too high at ASU."
A lot of enrollment statistics have to do with a boom or bust economy, said Debra Thompson, vice chancellor of the district.
"When the economy is very good, people are working and don't feel the need to go to school," Thompson said. "Clearly, the demand is there."
She expects junior colleges will see an additional increase in enrollment by 3 or 4 percent. Increased enrollment creates its own stresses, though, because tuition covers only a third of the cost of educating a student.
In March, the district board voted against a proposed $5 hike in tuition, which stands at $71 a credit-hour. But board members recently signaled that they may agree to raise the property-tax levy in June.
Students might have a hard time finding community college seats without extra funds.
"We really could be creating a dilemma two or three years down the road," Vaughan said. "We may have to cap enrollment, which would be a tragedy."
The district already has reduced operational budgets by 2 percent, or about $10 million out of an annual budget of $600 million, because of state cuts.
But a 2004 bond measure is allowing the colleges to construct new classrooms. Faculty positions are being filled, and the district is recruiting more adjunct instructors, Thompson said.