Taxpayers pay tab for ‘fun’ courses

Arizona Capitol Times
Friday, November 18, 2005
Kevin McCarthy Editorial

A recent article in the Arizona Capitol Times included a response from a community college spokesperson to a letter to legislators from the Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA).

Kathy Boyle, executive director of the Arizona Community College Association (ACCA), said most of the classes listed in the ATRA letter are paid for by tuition and class fees, not state funding. (Lawmaker targets state funding of community college ‘fun’ courses, Nov. 11)

Ms. Boyle is either woefully uninformed on this issue or is making an attempt at damage control by stating something she knows to be untrue. Let me help her and your readers understand how this works. The key component of state funding for colleges is the calculation of full time student equivalents (FTSE). To establish a college’s FTSE, total credits are simply divided by 30 (the number of credits in a year considered to be full time). Courses that qualify for credit and those that do not are determinations people at the colleges make. Each of the courses listed in the ATRA letter was found in a community college course catalog or class schedule and each was offered with a specified number of credits. Class schedules also list noncredit courses. This is no small distinction.

Thus far, college administrators have argued that the courses ATRA identifies as recreational are legitimate classes worthy of state funding. They also maintain that they do not distinguish between credits in such a manner and cannot provide an accounting of courses categorized to answer ATRA’s questions. Ms. Boyle seems to be presenting a new argument by suggesting that the credits awarded for these recreational classes are somehow excluded from the FTSE count submitted to the state for funding purposes. As I said earlier, this assertion is just plain wrong.

Mohave Community College has for years been offering credit for courses they classify as “personal enrichment” or “leisure studies” courses. Recognizing that such courses are not offered for credit in other states and have come under some scrutiny in Arizona in recent years, the district resolved to discontinue that practice and has transferred recreational dance, gardening, stress management, and similar courses to noncredit status. The result of this process is that Mohave’s total FTSE count will be lower than it otherwise would have been.

Ms. Boyle’s inaccurate claim that such courses do not receive state funding does seem to suggest an acknowledgment that such courses should not receive state funding. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.

We have recommended that legislators take immediate steps to ensure that Arizona’s funding priorities are straight. We hope the Legislature won’t wait for the colleges to do the same with their story.