Tuition will rise at the Valley’s community colleges by $4 per credit hour beginning this fall.

The Maricopa Community College District governing board voted 4-1 Tuesday to raise the cost per credit hour to $55 from $51 beginning in the 2004-05 school year. That comes out to $1,650 annually for students taking 30 credit hours.

The same proposal failed by a 2-3 vote March 23, but board members agreed to revisit the issue.

Tuesday, board members Ed Contreras and Scott Crowley changed their stances, saying discussions with staff and students helped co nv ince them the $8.9 million the tuition increase would raise is necessary to provide enough classes and services. The district, which includes Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler-Gilbert community colleges, serves 277,000 students and is one of the largest of its kind in the country.

However, Conteras said he’s concerned about the impact a series of tuition increases in the past nine years has had on middle- and lower-income students. Tuition went up by $5 per credit hour last year.

Changing the rates year by year to meet what appear to be long-term needs creates a lot of uncertainty for students struggling to pay for classes, Contreras said. He called for a new pricing policy that would give students a better idea of what to expect in the future.

"I don’t think we’re looking at it on a broad enough scale," he said.

Board member Donald Campbell said the district needs to find more funding sources, but said it would be difficult to come up with a foolproof formula to figure out what an education will cost years down the road.

Nancy Stein was the board’s lone holdout against raising tuition. She said the district is asking taxpayers to carry too much of the load in next year’s proposed budget.

For instance, the district is preparing to ask the public to vote on a $190 million bond package this fall.

Trevor Smith, a freshman at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, sits on the district’s Financial Advisory Council, a faculty-student group which recommended approval of the tuition hike.

"I see the need in some respects but on the other hand, it’s essential for the district to tighten its belt, too," Smith said.

Also Tuesday, the board gave preliminary approval to a $989 million budget for the upcoming school year, the district’s largest ever. Final adoption of the budget is scheduled for June 18.

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