By Lakisha Brown
Students financed an estimated $115 million of the 2015-2016 operating budget, 20 percent above their fair share, while the state and county failed to meet their financial obligations.
“State financial aid shall be one-third of the operating costs…the local sponsor shall provide one-half of the amount of the capital costs or so much as may be necessary, and one-third, or in the case of a college implementing a program of full opportunity for local residents, four-fifteenths of the operating costs,” according to Article 126, section 6304 (a-c) of the New York State Education Law. The state and county (local sponsors) are responsible by law for one-third of the operating costs of the college, however, the statues have continuously been ignored by budget legislatures.
New York’s community college’s original funding contract was established based on a one-third shared payment between students, local sponsors, and the state. Both the state’s and county’s support decreased gradually, while students provided more than their combined share. “This has happened despite the Education Law’s stipulation that tuition and fees charged to community college students shall not exceed one-third of operating costs,” H. Carl McCall, former New York State Comptroller, said. A recession in the 1990’s was responsible for the state’s and county’s initial decrease in financial support—becoming the core reason for the elevated costs for students. “This provision has been suspended by language in budget bill since 1991- initially under emergency circumstances during a recession—but continuing today despite economic improvement,” McCall, said in a report released in 1999.
“Additionally, under legislation passed in the 1970’s, state support was to have been increased to 40 percent of operating costs for community colleges that provided open admissions. All community colleges have met these requirements. If state support today was at the full 40 percent promised…annual tuition would be $100’s below current levels,” McCall said. Current tuition would be drastically lowered if the proper support were given from the state and county. However, students have exceeded their one-third share for decades because the county and state have failed to keep their commitments.
“Funding for a full opportunity institution is 40 percent State, if appropriations are available and 26.7 percent for the County sponsor. The current breakdown of revenue is State share 22.6%; County 23.5 percent and student 50.1 percent. Neither the State nor County are at the statutory designation, in part because of the scarcity of resources, and by reason of competition for those limited resources,” Mary Lou Araneo, vice president for institutional Advancement, said. Araneo explained the current amount covered by each unit and noted that the county and state’s broken statue go without penalty because of a shortage of resources.
“There are areas of the operating budget where expenditures increased,” Araneo, said. She provided a list of factors that contributed to the overhead increase. “Cost of living increase for employees, health insurance benefits, retirement plans…opening of new facilities such as the William J. Lindsay Life Sciences building in 2014-2015 and the learning resource center at Michael J. Grant campus by spring of 2017.”
Suffolk is the largest community college in New York where approximately 27,000 students attend.
“In 2014-2015, tuition at Suffolk County Community College was the fifth highest of the 30 community colleges in New York… tuition at Suffolk County Community College has increased by an average of 3.9 percent annually from 2010-2011 to 2014-2015, which is higher than the statewide average of 3.7 percent,” according to the Suffolk County Legislature budget review report. A National Center for Education Statistics Report shows the national average tuition for a two-year college at $3,322, while Suffolk’s average is $4,390. Not only are students responsible for more than their fair share—they’re rates are increasing faster than the national and state-wide averages.
“If the cost of college tuition was $10,000 in 1986 it would now cost the same student over $21, 500… but instead education is $59, 800 or over 2 ½ times the inflation rate,” according to Gordon Wadsworth, author of The College Trap. The cost of college is spiraling out of control, exceeding the rate of inflation, and students are carrying the burden.
“The County contribution was increased only once from 2008-2009 to 2013-2014. In an effort to be sensitive to the County’s fiscal challenge, the college requested no increase in college contribution for 2012-2013,” according to Suffolk County Legislative budget report. Special efforts were undergone to relieve the County’s fiscal challenges—meanwhile students suffer the consequences. The college tuition rate for all students are determined by college President, Shaun L. McKay’s recommendation and the Board of Trustee’s approval. However, the County is responsible for approving all of the college’s building plans. This may affect how the County’s needs are prioritized above the population it’s here to serve.
Suffolk’s reserve fund exceeds $25 million, although some of the funds are used to help balance the budget, it has come short of providing relief to the student population. President McKay and the Board of Trustees continue to approve budget plans which are increasing at an alarming rate. While little initiative has been taken to lighten the fiscal burden of students, some staff members are gaining wealth. President McKay’s administrative team is growing rapidly, as full-time teacher positions are drastically cut. According to the 2014-2015 exempt salary schedule, members of the president’s office are paid from a range of $85 – $250 thousand annually. “Suffolk County Community College paid $118 million in 2014 to 3,995 employees filling 5,803 positions…the information, which is public record, was received from the college in response to a Freedom of Information Law request,” according to a 2015 Newsday post. McKay’s annual compensation is above $300 thousand. In order to alleviate the financial burden placed on students, the college has to apply advanced fiscal management skills. In addition, the President, Board of Trustees, and students have to demand that the County and State uphold their financial commitments according to New York’s Education Law.