SCCC tuition to rise $250 in the fall

A group of students walk across the campus A group of students walk across the campus of Suffolk County Community College, in Selden, where they and fellow students will have to pay more to attend college as the Suffolk County Community College raises the tuition, Apr. 18, 2014. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Students at Suffolk County Community College will face a tuition increase of $250 this fall, bringing the annual charges to $4,390 at the two-year school.

The tuition hike is part of the $208.4 million 2014-15 operating budget that college trustees sent to county officials Friday.

The increase comes even though the Bellone administration agreed after two days of talks with college officials to a 2 percent increase in the county share of college costs -- or $780,000. College trustees, in the budget vote Thursday night, also included a one-shot use of $4.3 million from the college's $24.9 million reserve fund to keep tuition from rising further.

"Two hundred and fifty dollars may not sound like much unless you don't have it," said trustee Jim Morgo, head of the trustee budget committee, noting the college's mission is to provide affordable education where many students come from "very challenging economic backgrounds."

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a Bellone spokeswoman, said of the increase, the first since Bellone took office, "The 2 percent is fair because it remains within the tax cap," she said.

College trustees also asked county officials to continue talks to develop "a long-term plan for sustainable sponsor support to meet the mutual goal of keeping tuition affordable." They said the county's share had been "relatively flat" for six years, with only a single increase of 1 percent in the 2011-12 school year.

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"You just can't take any more from the kids," said Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, another trustee, noting students now pay more than half the college cost, while the county share is 23.8 percent. "It's just not the way to do business."

The original concept for state community colleges was that the state, county and students would each pay a third.

The trustees' college budget, which must still be approved by the county legislature, would increase spending next year by 5.4 percent, or $10.5 million -- the bulk of it, $8.6 million, for salary and benefits.

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College officials blamed the increased tuition on the state, which increased operating aid for each full-time student by only $75. College presidents had sought $250 and the State Senate had proposed $125. The Assembly, which had sought a $50 increase, compromised with the Senate on $75, to make the per student aid $2,497. In all, the state share is 25.9 percent of college costs.

Shaun McKay, college president, called the agreement a "good first step," but said the county must help increase its share as part of a five-year plan so the college can better meet future needs while avoiding repeated use of one-shot revenues from the reserve fund.

Legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) supported an increase in the county share and embraced the idea of long-term planning to stabilize tuition costs. "The legislature views the college as a tremendous asset and we favor whatever we can do to reduce the cost for students so college remains affordable," he said.Suffolk's current tuition rate of $4,140 ranks 10th highest out of the state's 30 community colleges, just ahead of Nassau Community College, where the tuition rate is $4,088. Nassau has not yet set its tuition for the next school year, but is expected to act in May. The highest current tuition for a state community college is Sullivan County at $4,474; the lowest is Dutchess County at $3,200.

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