GRCC Request Needs A Yes Vote

July 16, 2007
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Grand Rapids Community College leaders were correct in placing a millage hike back on the ballot for Aug. 7. Area voters are encouraged to turn out in force and approve the proposal.

The open door policy and lower tuition costs to attend GRCC are vital for students who might not otherwise pursue a path to higher education. As college enrollment tightens and tuitions escalate due to state cutbacks and other economic realities, this key local option for all Kent County residents must be preserved to its fullest extent.

GRCC President Juan Olivarez’s declaration last month that the prospect of turning even more students away is “completely unacceptable” must be heeded by voters throughout the county.

In May, GRCC’s first attempt at a millage request in 16 years was rejected by 738 votes, or about 1 percent of the disappointing 13 percent of voters who cast ballots. GRCC’s Board of Trustees are returning with an appeal of 0.49 mills, just under the May request of .56 mills. The difference reflects the college’s recent 8 percent tuition hike.

GRCC plays a prominent role in the area’s workforce development in preparing students, workers and the community to compete in the new global economy. The school’s millage increase represents a significant and crucial investment in the institution’s commitment to the community and vice versa.

Student enrollment on the urban campus for both credit and non-credit courses is approximately 26,000 this year. The college is on target for another record enrollment for fall semester. The burgeoning enrollment has led to students not being able to get some or all of the classes they want and need in a given semester. GRCC has reached enrollment numbers that surpass the college’s limits for space, class selections and the support services that are required for student achievement. More than 60 sections of classes that were recently added to accommodate the mushrooming demand had to be cancelled.

GRCC operators point to five years of cuts, reforms, fund raising and tuition hikes that have led up to the millage requests. Olivarez said the millage proposal is a last resort in sustaining the college’s positive impact on the educational climate in this area.

In Olivarez’s most recent plea for support he states: “We’ve increased tuition. We’ve raised a record amount of money for the foundation. We’ve increased class sizes, capped enrollment and cut courses. We’ve changed employee health benefits to save the college money. We’ve eliminated faculty positions, and we allow faculty who want to do so to teach “overload” classes,” a move he says saves the school about $4 million a year.

After an extensive review process implemented five years ago by a committee of the area’s top businesses and education leaders, including Win Irvin, Chair of the Kent-Allegan Workforce Development Board and Chairman/President of Irwin Seating Co., the college was encouraged to implement every possible method to cut costs, build efficiencies and raise revenues internally before asking voters for support. Irwin said those exhaustive efforts were taken to the limit, including asking business and community leaders to make charitable contributions to support the college. In the fall of 2006 committee members determined GRCC needed to seek a millage increase.

The due diligence has been performed, the accountability has been certified. It’s now time for voters to turn out and give this plan a stamp of approval for West Michigan’s future.    

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