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Suffolk County Community College proposes $350 tuition hike

Suffolk County Community College trustees Thursday proposed a $226.3 million budget that would increase tuition for full-time students by a record $350 in the next school year and raise fees.

The move also set up a potential confrontation with County Executive Steve Bellone.

The SCCC budget includes a four percent increase in the county’s contribution to college costs, although Bellone told the school to include only a 1.5 percent increase for the 26,000-student school.

Without a four percent boost, tuition could rise by $400, or cutbacks could be needed, officials said.

Jim Morgo, the trustees’ budget committee chair, said college President Shaun McKay told the board some county lawmakers have committed back a 4 percent hike in the county share. “We don’t want to be negotiating against ourselves,” Morgo said.

McKay was not at the trustees’ meeting. A board official said McKay was attending to a medical issue.

The proposed budget, which increases spending by $5.3 million, would boost annual full-time tuition from $4,870 to $5,220.

Full-time tuition at Nassau Community College is $5,102. NCC will not set its 2018-19 tuition until May.

SCCC trustees approved the spending package in a 6-1 vote, with student trustee Jerome Bost, dissenting.

Bost recalled meeting recently with fellow students. “What the increases do to students brought tears to their eyes four, five and six times,” he said.

Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, said the county executive will oppose a larger county contribution. Elan said the trustees’ budget runs counter to a study last year by the administration, the legislature and the college that called for an annual 1.5 percent increase for five years.

“Before asking taxpayers for more money, the board of trustees should reread the 2017 report that they helped author and agreed to for a 1.5 percent county contribution,” Elan said. Other officials said 1.5 percent was not an agreed upon level of funding.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said he has had discussions with McKay, but never made a commitment to a specific funding level.

However, “I feel a personal responsibility to keep tuition as low as possible because a lot of students are working two or three jobs so they can go to school,” said Gregory, who is running in a Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District against Liuba Grechen Shirley, a progressive activist.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), minority leader, said he could not make “any hard and fast commitment.” But he said a 4 percent increase “is not an unreasonable request,” given the college’s value as an investment to “educate our residents, reduce our public assistance rolls and keep people out of jail.”

College officials say the budget gap, in part, is a result of $7 million in increases salary and health insurance costs and the need to replace $6.7 million from the college’s reserve fund.

SCCC also is projecting a 1.2 percent drop in enrollment, which will reduce tuition and state aid revenues by $2.6 million.

To narrow the gap, college officials plan to take only $2.5 million from the college’s $22.5 million reserve funding in the coming year. A $350 tuition hike would raise $7 million, and the proposed extra county funding would generate $1.6 million, officials. New and higher fees would bring in more than $1 million.

College officials also say the college has achieved savings by postponing plans to start a new dental hygiene program, cutting back on equipment and supply purchases and leaving vacancies open for longer periods.

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