College Struggles with Largest Enrollment in 50 Years

By Lisa Behnke

Security Officers direct traffic at an overcrowded intersection.

As SCCC celebrates 50 years of providing a local community college experience to Suffolk County residents, record numbers of students cram the halls and the roads.

Enrollment is at an all time high, reaching well beyond the schools allotted three percent budget increase set by the state. “It is likely to be closer to double-digit figures,” said Jeffery Lang, Director of Admission. The increase in student enrollment will mean a heavier burden on all aspects of the college, predicted Lang.

Students who are looking for an affordable education are opting to attend their local community college in lieu of going away to a four-year school. The programs offered at the college are diverse and easily transferable within the SUNY school system.

“Classes are now being offered as early as 6:30 a.m. for the first time at the Ammerman campus,” said Charles Bartolotta, Associate Dean of Student Affairs. Though the earlier time works for students that hold full time jobs, it puts additional burden on professors that are already feeling the pressures of having more students in the classroom. The added workload of reading an increased number of student papers has some professors scaling back their syllabuses.

According to Bartolotta, the Faculty Association agreed to raise the class size cap from 28 to 31 in an effort to accommodate more students. In an e-mail sent to the English department, Ellen Schuler Mauk, President of the Faculty Association, clarifies that the FA agreed to raise the cap by two students only in classes that are not “hard limited,” classes that are limited by either space or subject matter. Despite these increases, there were still many students turned away from full classes.

At the August meeting of the board of trustees, Interim President Gatta shared a figure of 25,208 students enrolled college-wide for the fall semester. This number is leagues above the 506 students who attended the first classes of the college in 1960, originally held at the Sachem and Riverhead high schools.

At the previous June meeting of the board of trustees, Gatta spoke about the challenges that this and other colleges throughout the nation are facing. Suggesting the wider use of lecture facilities, Gatta asked for cooperation from faculty volunteers to enhance class efficiency to better accommodate students. While noting that the Master Schedule was being worked on, he admitted that capacity would be an issue.

This year’s budget, approved by the BOT for the period covering September 1, 2009 through August 31, 2010 is $3,380,361, an increase of $341,081 from last years budget. According to Bartolotta, there are no plans to increase faculty, classroom space, or parking accommodations. As a state school run by the county, the college has a limited ability to deal with these issues.

With the largest number of students on campus, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest time for the college. For the first time, security officers have taken on the roll of directing traffic on campus, Bartolotta said. Young drivers with little patience have become extremely frustrated on the roads and in the parking lots. Cars are being parked on lawns and in no-parking zones in overcrowded lots. Under new management, the bookstore seems unable to deal with the deluge of students, leaving lines climbing out of the Babylon Student Center and wrapping around the building.

There may yet be relief in sight. If previous semesters are any indication, a portion of students will drop out or stop coming to classes, easing the pressure on the overcrowded classrooms and parking lots. “In a few weeks things should get better,” said Bartolotta.

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