Free parking comes at a hefty price
December 7, 2022
Mechanical engineering major Minh Dao, 27, commutes to El Camino College in his minivan, spending $100 per month to fill up his gas tank.
For Dao, paying for parking would have a fiscal impact when he is only taking one class for the semester.
With classes being $46 per unit, Dao said paying an additional $35 parking fee would not be worth it for him.
“I don’t take a lot of classes on campus,” Dao said. “So, it’s a waste to pay for the whole semester.”
With enrollment decreasing and students acclimating to a post-COVID campus, one perk has been free parking and no citations as long as people park in designated areas at El Camino College.
However, while free parking remains popular with students, El Camino College has depended on financial assistance to compensate for the lost revenue from parking and other school-related funds.
Local colleges have experienced revenue losses from parking, food services, facility rental, and other programs.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, the parking permit machines at El Camino brought in $196,393.
In the following year, the parking permit machines brought in $2,607–a 98% decrease.
On Feb. 9, 2022, El Camino’s Office of Marketing announced via an email that parking permits and daily passes were no longer necessary for spring 2022.
El Camino College, Compton, West LA, LA Southwest, and Santa Monica have waived their parking fees for the current fall semester.
Compton College offered a $20 parking permit with a daily fee of $3.
West LA College offered $27 preferred parking and $20 regular parking.
Los Angeles Southwest College charged $20 and a $2 daily fee.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica College has an $85 parking fee for parking on the main campus.
According to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Datamart, El Camino College enrolled 24,354 students in the fall of 2017.
In 2017-2018, El Camino College brought in $1,169,179 in parking passes.
In 2019-2020, those earnings dropped to $513, 370 – a 56% decrease.
As of now, free parking will most likely remain through spring 2023 and could potentially stay that way for a while, El Camino College Business Manager Jeffrey Hinshaw said.
“If the state [Chancellors Office] doesn’t come back and dig and direct the district to start charging for parking again, then it’s the district’s discretion whether or not they want to do it independently,” Hinshaw said.
The goal was to relieve students’ financial burdens and increase enrollment by encouraging student involvement on campus.
Other initiatives included a tuition relief program, halting parking citations, providing more laptops and encouraging professors to embrace zero-cost textbooks.
However, across the state and close to home, enrollment at many community colleges plunged during the coronavirus pandemic.
Statewide, more than 326,315 fewer students enrolled in fall 2021 than in fall 2017.
Many students have yet to re-enroll because they prioritize work and taking care of family or their dependents and others struggle with keeping up with their classes.
According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, much of the California Community College’s (CCC) remaining budget comes from student enrollment fees, other student fees (nonresident tuition, parking fees and health services) and various local sources.
The pandemic had a notable fiscal implication for CCCs and students. This is primarily due to the college’s shift to remote learning, which resulted in some costs.
These costs for colleges come from acquiring laptops for students and employees, providing training for transitioning classes to online and purchasing protective equipment for staff remaining on campus.
The Chancellor’s Office estimates the costs totaled about $350 million through 2020-2021.
An estimated $58 million was provided to CCCs for enrollment and other refunds to students whose classes were canceled in the spring of 2020.
State Chancellor’s Office Interim Director of Fiscal Finance Standards and Accountability Lorena Romero said the Federal Government provided Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) funds that could be used to cover lost revenues.
“As long as HEER funds are available, the loss of those revenues may not impact the districts if they use the federal funds to cover the losses,” Romero said.
Hinshaw estimates around $50 million was used out of the $84 million provided by the CARES Act to help make up for lost revenue.
This includes transitioning to more distance learning, specifically more technology infrastructure to support more servers needed for an online learning environment.
However, there is still revenue from the staff parking provided on campus.
Unlike students, some El Camino College staff have continued to pay for parking, costing $120 per year.
About 72 spots around campus are reserved explicitly for staff (this is only for the special paid spots), while the rest are free for employees, and an average of 60 get rented annually, bringing in about $7,200.
Before the pandemic, a $35 parking fee was required for student vehicles at El Camino College each fall or spring semester. The daily fee without a parking pass is $3, with a $20 fee for cars per summer or winter session, and for motorcycles, $20 per semester or session.
A $35 fee per semester may not be a financial burden for some, but it adds to other student fees.
Extended Opportunity Programs & Services (EOPS) counselor Maria Garcia said the extra fee could negatively impact the students she mentors. Many of these students are minorities, low-income, or first-generation and have been struck by the pandemic’s effects, Garcia said.
“Although it might not seem like a lot to someone like me or another student, for our students, it can impact, definitely,” Garcia said. “I can only imagine getting a break for a year and then having to shell out $35 for a permit or $3 daily.”
Nursing student Yesenia Alvarado agrees after having to commute from San Pedro to El Camino.
“It saves me money, and I’m not stressed over parking,” Alvarado said. “It’s easy access.”
As the semester wears on and parking remains free, Director of Public Information and Government Relations Kerri Webb reiterates the goal is to encourage student involvement.
“At the state level, the chancellor’s office has pretty much directed all superintendents, CEOs, and the Board of Trustees to work with their individual districts and campuses to facilitate strategies to get more students to again, not only come on campus but stay here,” Webb said
Editor’s Note: Corrected grammar errors on Dec. 12, 2022, at 3:19 p.m.