Schenectady County

SCCC students face added costs

Students may have to reach deeper into their pockets to pay for higher education next year at Schene

Students may have to reach deeper into their pockets to pay for higher education next year at Schenectady County Community College, whether it’s through higher tuition or a parking fee, officials said.

A tuition hike for 2008-2009 is possible because the state failed to boost aid to community colleges in its new budget, and college officials are unsure whether the county will increase its sponsorship contribution. County officials may instead require the college to institute a $35 per student per semester parking fee, a move the college rejected last year.

“It’s nice there is no reduction in state aid and that it stayed the same, but we still have expenses,” said SCCC spokeswoman Heather Meaney. “We will be evaluating our options during the semester. What will happen is we will be looking at a significant tuition increase.”

SCCC’s main sources of revenues are tuition, state reimbursement and support from its sponsor, Schenectady County. The county’s $1.9 million annual contribution puts it 27th among 30 community college sponsors, said SUNY spokesman Dave Henahan.

SCCC administrators will develop the new budget starting in May and will submit it to trustees in June. It then goes to the county for review and approval by the county Legislature. SUNY, which oversees community colleges, will review the budget in late fall for final approval.

Tuition at SCCC is $2,890 per year, one of the lowest among the state’s 30 community colleges, SCCC officials said. Community colleges, unlike the four-year SUNY schools, can set their own tuition rates. The college raised tuition by $70 to the current level last year.

Henahan said the SUNY board of trustees will consider requests for tuition increases case by case.

The college had hoped to see an increase in state support in the new budget, approved Wednesday. Instead, state support remains at the current reimbursement rate of $2,675 per FTE, or full-time equivalent.

State legislators rejected an earlier proposal to reduce the aid by $50 per FTE.

Student revenues represented 40 percent of SCCC’s budget in 2007-2008, state aid represented 37 percent and the county’s contribution 23 percent.

College officials expect enrollment for 2008-2009 to remain steady or increase slightly but not enough to offset increases in institutional expenses, Meaney said. Enrollment at SCCC this fall is 4,924 students: 2,102 full time, 1,542 part time and 1,280 in the “University in the High School,” Meaney said.

The college’s current budget is $21.3 million, which reflects a 4.5 percent increase over the 2006-07 budget. The areas of largest growth, and which are difficult to control, are personnel costs and fringe benefits. Personnel costs account for 53 percent of the budget and fringe benefits 27 percent.

College officials are unsure whether they will seek an increase from the county Legislature.

“We have no figures yet as to what we will be requesting from the county. We won’t know that for a while,” Meaney said.

County Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, a former SCCC trustee and former chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Libraries, said the county should adequately fund the college, which he called an asset to the community.

The last time the county Legislature increased its sponsorship amount was two years ago, by $100,000.

Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, current chairman of the county Legislature’s Committee on Education and Libraries and a SCCC trustee, said he hasn’t heard the college’s position yet.

“I don’t have a position on a college request to the county. You have to look at the total proposal they bring forward,” Hughes said.

He said some county officials will likely ask the college to institute student fees to close the revenue gap.

The most likely fee would be a $35 parking fee per student per semester.

The county proposed the parking fee last year when SCCC President Gabe Basil sought a $150,000 increase in the county contribution. Basil rejected the suggestion and tapped the college’s fund balance and took other steps to close the gap.

The fund balance is currently $2.1 million; the college projects it will use half the amount this year and next year for operations, Meaney said. “In that case, our fund balance would be dangerously low.”

Hughes said he understands Basil’s position on student fees: “They do not fall into a student’s financial aid package, which is a reason the college has been reluctant to do that,” he said.

He said Basil has worked to keep tuition and fees to SCCC students “as low as possible and I can understand that.”

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