FTES Metric determines apportioned funding

Statewide education allocations examined

By Cody McFarland, Associate Editor

The Full-Time Equivalent Student workload measure used by the state to apportion funding to California’s public colleges is largely unknown by students, let alone understood.

In an anonymous survey conducted by The Advocate on Monday, of the 54 Contra Costa College students polled, zero students definitively knew what one FTES is, 52 students had never heard the term and two students were familiar with the term, but did not know what it represents.

In its simplest breakdown, one FTES is the equivalent of one student enrolled in 15 semester units, or multiple students enrolled in an accumulated 15 semester units. This is not a head count system, considering multiple students may represent just one FTES.

In actuality, one FTES is equivalent to 525 hours of student instruction annually.

“The FTES formula is actually much more complex, but we simplify by stating that a Full-Time Equivalent Student is one student enrolled in 15 units per term over two semesters,” district Executive Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said.

“The 15 units come into play based on the state’s funding formula of 525 hours of instruction per year equating to full-time. Since we are on a semester system of 17.5 weeks, 30 hours over two semesters multiplied by 17.5 weeks equals 525 hours.”

For students, it is widely known that being enrolled in 12 or more units of course sections is what constitutes full-time status. Such status allows students certain benefits, such as financial aid eligibility or agency with an athletic team on campus.

So why is one FTES equivalent to 15 units instead of 12 units, if that is the baseline for students to attain full-time status?

Administrator of Fiscal Policy at the State Chancellor’s Office Diane Brady said, “For some programs and purposes, 12 units is considered a full-time load. However, if we consider that it normally takes 60 units for an associate’s degree, and 120 for a bachelor’s degree, it is felt that a normal load would be 30 units in a year or 15 per semester to graduate in four years.”

Historically, community colleges are known as two-year institutions and universities as four-years. Though the reality of when students actually transfer or graduate may be considerably longer, this is what is expected by the state.

Mehdizadeh said, “Certainly from a financial perspective, if 24 hours (12 per term over two terms) or 420 hours per year equated to one FTES, and the apportionment dollar amount per FTES remained the same, it would be a nice benefit to every college. Of course that would mean the state’s spending for community colleges would need to increase substantially.”

The dollar amount currently apportioned to public colleges in California per resident FTES is $4,676. While districts are required to report all resident and nonresident FTES to the state, only resident FTES can be claimed for state apportionment.

District Associate Vice Chancellor Chief Financial Officer Jonah Nicholas said that the district budgeted for 28,367 resident FTES this year. If achieved, that would result in a $132,644,092 apportionment.

The district also receives an additional $13,042,419 in apportionment revenue as a base allocation. Base allocations are flat dollar amounts that colleges and state approved centers receive based on size, Nicholas said.

The district receives about 51 percent of its FTES revenue from local property taxes, approximately $73.4 million. Another 11.4 percent comes from enrollment fees, approximately $16.5 million. The remaining 37.6 percent comes from state apportionment, approximately $54.3 million, he said.

Of California’s 72 community college districts, only six are considered “basic aid” or “excess tax” districts, meaning that property values in these districts are so high that tax revenues and student fees alone cover the cost of operation and no apportionment from the state general fund is required.

“The (Contra Costa Community College) district is not close to basic aid status,” Nicholas said.

Under state law, a minimum of 40 percent of California’s general fund is mandated to go toward education. Historically, the actual amount allocated to education exceeds the minimum at roughly 50 to 60 percent of the general fund.

While the University of California and California State University systems set their own tuition costs, the state Legislature is responsible for setting community college enrollment fees.

“In some ways (the community college system) is like K-12 and in some ways it is like university,” Brady said. “It is kind of a weird hybrid of both systems.”