Montgomery County

FMCC seeks $100,000 more from sponsor counties

Fulton-Montgomery Community College is asking for an extra $100,000 each from its sponsor counties t
Privately owned apartments, foreground, serve the student body at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, in background across the field.
Privately owned apartments, foreground, serve the student body at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, in background across the field.

Fulton-Montgomery Community College is asking for an extra $100,000 each from its sponsor counties this year, the first increase in eight years, while it works to combat a two-year downward trend in enrollment.

The college’s $20.1 million 2015-2016 budget, including $1.49 million from each county, was approved by the FMCC Board of Trustees in May and by the Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday. Its final hurdle will be the Montgomery County Legislature, expected to consider the budget at its July 28 meeting.

Martin Kelly, chairman of the Montgomery County Legislature, was supportive of the budget Thursday afternoon.

“For the past eight years to a decade, FMCC hasn’t asked for an increase in their budget,” he said. “They’ve dipped into their fund balance so that it wouldn’t cost so much to the counties. It’s inevitable that eventually the cost to the counties would go up. But for what they’re asking for, I think it’s a good budget and I think it will go to a good cause.”

The college will dip into its fund balance again this coming year for $500,000, according FMCC President Dustin Swanger. Overall, the budget is a 3 percent decrease over the current year and includes a $252 increase in tuition per student.

The increased county share is a result of declining enrollment, Swanger said.

“Enrollment went down this year and it’s going down again, which means there are fewer students to spread the cost of the college over,” he said. “If we didn’t increase the request from the county sponsors, then we would be taking $700,000 out of our fund balance, and that’s just too much.”

After a recent period of steep growth — in some years up to 35 percent — the enrollment began to drop, about 2 percent in 2013-2014, then 10 percent this year, according to Swanger, “which is what I’m hearing from community colleges across the country, that they’re all experiencing a decline in enrollment right now.”

There are a few reasons for the drop. For one, the economy is improving, leading students who may have looked at community colleges before to consider more expensive private institutions again.

“When you look at enrollment trends at community colleges, as the economy worsens, enrollment goes up; as the economy gets better, enrollment goes down,” he said.

The population of students leaving high school is also shrinking, he said, leaving a smaller applicant pool and driving more competitive marketing from colleges and universities.

FMCC is addressing the problem on two major fronts. Swanger said the school is hiring two new advisers to focus on students at risk of dropping out in order to increase retention. Secondly, they’ve bolstered the college’s international student office to help attract more students from abroad.

The college is adding a second person to the international student office beginning Sept. 1 to focus on the day-to-day needs of on-campus international students, allowing Arlene Spencer, director of International Student & ESL Programs, to spend more time on recruitment.

“My time will be freed up to explore new partnerships and opportunities for recruitment internationally,” Spencer said. “Yes, to boost enrollment is great, because that brings in tuition dollars and revenue that the college benefits from, but it’s the people-to-people component that’s really important to our student body. [Domestic students] can come to F-M, which may be in their own backyard, and meet students from 25 or more countries from around the world.”

Of the roughly 2,600 students enrolled at the college this year, 132 are international students, up from 82 in 2009. Swanger said he thinks that figure can rise to 200 in the next few years.

Although no full-time positions are cut, the budget includes reductions due to retirements, fewer part-time faculty than used in previous years and reductions in spending on equipment and supplies, said Swanger.

The college is launching a new HVAC program this fall in cooperation with Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, which Swanger said came out of conversations with the business community. He said industry input has also led to the revision of about six different course curricula for next year.

Swanger said he is “optimistic” that Montgomery County will approve the budget at the end of the month, and Kelly seemed to share his tone.

“FMCC provides a higher education at a great cost compared to other four-year colleges and universities,” Kelly said. “With so many people out of work, I think it provides great job-skill training in targeted areas where jobs are available.”

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