By Liz Capobianco
For the more than 23,000 students attending Suffolk County Community College, the news of a new tuition increase could not have come at a worse time. On Thursday, April 16, the board of trustees unanimously approved a $180.1-million budget that will hike tuition 7.7 percent, or $260 for full-time students.
Under the current tuition plan for the Spring 2009 semester, full-time tuition for students is $1,688 per semester for residents and $3,376 per semester for non-residents. Full-time students entering the college this coming fall will be forced to dig a little deeper into their pockets and under the new budget will be paying $3,636 per semester. The cost per credit will be jumping from $141 for part-time students to $282 for residents and from $152 per credit to $304 for non-residents. Students will also now shoulder 46.2 percent of the school costs, up from 43 percent this year.
As stated in April 16 Board of Trustees minutes, the members of the College Board “recognize the severe financial burdens facing the county of Suffolk and therefore did not request an increase in financial support from the county.”
“Since the college is a ‘full opportunity’ community college, the state is required to fund up to 40 percent of the annual operating budget, Suffolk County is required to provide 26.66 percent and student tuition and fees are supposed to make up the remaining 33.33 percent. Unfortunately, each year the NYS Legislature includes language in their budget resolutions that exempts the state from the requirement to fund 40 percent. Currently, Suffolk County funds approximately 26 percent of our annual operating budget. Additionally, the county and state each fund 50 percent of the college’s capital projects. These are major facility construction projects and none of these costs are funded by student tuition,” says George Gatta Jr., college interim president.
With a record number of students enrolling in the college every semester, school officials expect the new tuition increase to bring more than $6.5 million more to the college. “The projected 3 percent growth in enrollment, adding 540 students next fall, would generate $2 million,” said Gatta
To decrease the risk of cutting other services supplied by the college to save money and work towards balancing the budget, the Board of Trustees were left with few choices. The decision had to be made to either to raise tuition or reduce the operations of the college, and risk having to potentially turn students away in the future.
Unfortunately, Suffolk isn’t the only college or university on Long Island that is facing a steep tuition increase. The students at other nearby schools like Stony Brook University, Farmingdale State College and Old Westbury College will see their tuition rise nearly 15 percent next fall. Gatta responds to that fact and defends Suffolk’s increase saying that the cost remains less expensive than other four-year state schools. He also noted that the tuition hike is less than half the $640 jump at four-year state schools. The 7.7 percent hike means that tuition will now be more than that at Nassau Community College.
Many students at the Ammerman campus are unaware that the increase will be going into effect next semester. Jeffrey Hoogsteden, who will be completing his second semester at Suffolk this spring, will be taking a year off and instead will be working full-time to help pay his way through school.
“I may or may not be back,” he says. “I’m sure this isn’t the end of these budget changes. I just hope that, when I do decide to come back, that the tuition costs aren’t completely out of reach for those of us who are paying their own way.”
With the ailing economy, many community colleges are seeing an increase in applicants as more and more Americans are returning to school to make themselves more marketable. Many are hoping to increase their chances of entering the struggling job market successfully and hope to do so in an affordable way.
“We continue to do many things to keep this an affordable educational alternative for our students,” Gatta said.
With the projected enrollment growth of 3 percent, or about 540 more students, the Board of Trustees are looking to bring in an additional $2 million in revenue to the college as they head into the new academic year.
The hike in tuition will help to balance the college’s budget and create a surplus by the end of the fiscal year and uphold the current services that the school provides. In addition, under the new budget plan, no new full-time jobs will be created, but students and faculty can expect to see the jump in enrollment and an increase in the number of part-time and adjunct professors in the coming semester.