Suffolk County Community College trustees Thursday proposed a $220.9 million budget for next school year that will keep the tuition increase to $100 by using a record $6.3 million from its reserve fund to stave off a larger hike.
The proposed spending package would increase the tuition by 2.1 percent to $4,870 annually for full-time students, but keep student fees the same as last year. The trustees also are asking Suffolk County for an increase of $1,044,750, or 2.5 percent, in its $41.88 million annual contribution to college operations.
The budget proposes a spending increase of 0.42 percent, the smallest ever.
But the plan also forecasts a 2 percent drop in enrollment of full-time equivalent students — a decrease of 354 students, to 18,269.
That drop, along with a smaller-than-expected state aid increase of $50 instead of $100 per student; a net increase in expenses of $1.45 million; and the need to replace the $3.9 million in one-shot revenue from the reserve fund that was used this year have created a $10.5 million budget gap.
Jim Morgo, the trustees budget committee chairman, said the panel initially wanted to keep tuition flat, but could not reach the goal because of circumstances beyond the college’s control.
“This year, the committee was committed to not balancing the budget on the backs or the students,” he said, noting that since 2013, tuition has risen by 18.28 percent. “But we don’t have any good choices. We are limited to the choice of tuition or the reserve fund.”
Morgo said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the county legislature will back the college’s request for a 2.5 percent increase because the “college has a real effect on students and gives them to chance for prosperous lives in the middle class.”
Should the county agree to the college request, it would mean that Suffolk would be paying 24.97 percent of college costs, the state 26.01 percent and the students 49.03 percent. County officials will decide on the college’s funding request before classes begin in the fall.
“We’re surprised these trustees asked for a larger 2.5 percent increase in the county contribution after a working group, which included representatives from SCCC, recommended only a 1.5 percent increase,” said Jason Elan, a Bellone spokesman.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, GOP caucus leader, said he had not yet seen the budget. But he said he was “generally supportive” of the college because it focuses on “students who have less choices and have to stay close to home. I’m sure we’ll try to work it out, but I don’t know where were going to find the money.”
College officials say the tuition hike will generate $2 million, and the extra state aid will bring in $950,000 in new revenue.
Trustees proposed to fill the remainder of the budget gap by using $6.286 million from the college’s $21.43 million reserve. That will decrease the reserve fund to $15.18 million, or just under 7 percent of the budget. That would be significantly below the 10 percent recommended by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education, the college’s accrediting agency.
“This is the last thing we want to do,” said college trustee Denise Sullivan, speaking to a handful of students at a trustees meeting Thursday.
But without a tuition increase, “we can’t give you the kind of education you deserve,” Sullivan said.
Tylar Vigliarolo, a student government representative, said he and his fellow students were “formally against the increase, but we understand the decision they had to make.”
This school year tuition when up by $200 and student fees rose by $98.
The amount that community college students would pay next school year if Suffolk County lawmakers approve the budget request.