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Long Island

5 local public colleges brace for state budget cuts

Stony Brook is one of five local Long

Stony Brook is one of five local Long Island colleges that are preparing to cut cost and cancel classes. Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

Long Island's five public colleges are bracing for state budget cuts that will likely increase class sizes, lengthen lines for registration and other services, and scuttle plans to offer new programs.

As they await Gov. David A. Paterson's new budget, several of the schools fear that they will have to cancel courses and turn away qualified students.

Paterson's announcement Friday that schools could have greater financial autonomy in the future doesn't affect this year's budget woes.

Anxieties about this year's cuts come even as SUNY's Stony Brook, Old Westbury and Farmingdale campuses are attracting a record number of applicants while the Island's two community colleges burst with students from morning till night.

Although the campuses are scrambling to persuade Albany to increase spending, administrators are pessimistic about prospects for the next year because the state faces a shortfall of more than $8 billion.

At the very least, the expected cuts could delay Suffolk County Community College's plans to start an emergency medical technician program and cause Nassau Community College to reduce the hours at offices that serve students. Farmingdale, which had to reject about 1,000 qualified students last fall, might have to rebuff even more this year, said president W. Hubert Keen.

Already, all the schools are considering squeezing more students into any classrooms with available seats.

"You have to decide if you can put in two or three more students in every section of a class, does that mean you don't have to hire a new professor?" said Chuck Cutolo, director of governmental affairs for Nassau Community College.

Stony Brook, reeling from $37 million in budget cuts in the past year and a half, has a hiring freeze for non-faculty jobs and has halted most equipment purchases. Long Island's two community colleges are already feeling the pinch from about $2 million each lost in emergency cuts. Cutolo added that Nassau might have to cut back on laboratory courses, which are more expensive because they require supplies and have limited enrollment.

At SUNY-Old Westbury, the budget-trimming meant larger classes and shorter hours at the library. The admissions office is usually closed to the public one day a week because there aren't enough staff members to greet the public and read applications.

The services are being slashed even as public campuses are attracting record numbers of families who have decided they cannot afford private college. Old Westbury's enrollment jumped 10 percent in September compared with the previous year, as did Suffolk County Community College's.

Stony Brook's admissions office is reveling in a surge of applicants. Stony Brook is touting its cost - about $16,500 in tuition and fees a year, compared with $40,000 or more at private colleges.

"Everything is so in flux we're not sure what's going to be in that budget document," Michael Kinane, assistant to the president for advancement at Old Westbury.

"It's a tough budget year all around," said Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport). He and other Republicans have proposed boosting tuition for out-of-state students, to raise $175 million.

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