State fails at funding community colleges: official

JOHNSTOWN – The 2014-15 state budget could boost base aid to Fulton-Montgomery Community College by about $125,000.

However, David Morrow – the college’s vice president for administration and finance – said that estimate is based on the college’s enrollment staying at the current figure of about 2,130 full-time equivalent students.

“Anytime you get an increase it’s beneficial, but it’s still not as much as it was several years ago,” Morrow said.

FM President Dustin Swanger said the increase of will help, but the state still isn’t funding community college’s to the level they should and previously promised.

“The state should be funding us at 33 to 40 percent of our budget and they’re funding us at about 24 percent of our budget, so they are way behind where they should be,” Swanger said.

He said the original funding formula for community colleges was split into thirds with each portion of the budget coming from the counties, state and students.

However, Swanger said, when they were changed to equal opportunity, or open enrollment, colleges by the state , officials promised to provide 40 percent of the budget. But Swanger said that funding was only provided for a short time.

Morrow said the college’s current base aid per FTE is $2,422 and this increase will bring that total up to $2,497 for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

“It helps, but $125,000 is not a huge pot of money to increase the college budget, and we certainly wanted to see more than that from the state level,” Swanger said. “It is about half of what we thought we would receive. We were really hoping for about $250,000 to $300,000.”

Swanger also said the expected change to the “charge-back” system – which was projected to cost the college about $200,000 – has been delayed by two years, which will allow the college to budget for the cost.

“They postponed the implementation of that for two years,” Swanger said. “That helps us a bit and some of it is kicking the can down the road and we know that, but it does help in next year’s budget.”

Under state education law, counties pay a “charge-back” fee when one of their residents attends a community college outside of their home county.

Swanger said the total amount a college can charge the counties varies from one institution to the next because it’s based on a formula that takes the sponsoring counties contribution and the number of students within those counties attending the college to determine the rate.

The charge-back rate changes each year and is based on the formula decided by the State University of New York Board of Trustees.

Swanger said in future budgets the state needs to meet its commitment to funding higher education.

“The state really needs to step up and give us a third of our budget,” Swanger said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo caused some controversy in February when he announced a statewide initiative to give prison inmates an opportunity to earn a college degree by having the state fund college classes.

The plan didn’t make the budget, and Swanger said such things shouldn’t be funded until the state increases funding for all students.

“There has been a lot of discussion of public funding, particularly with free tuition for inmates,” Swanger said. “We know educating inmates cuts down on recidivism and it’s not a bad idea. But it is a bad idea when you’re not fully funding your obligation to public and community colleges. I certainly would hope before we add another program, that we would take a serious look at providing the funding that should be provided to public community colleges and universities to support those folks that are working hard and trying to make ends meet.”

According to a press release from the state Senate, the new state budget also helps parents pursue higher education by restoring $1.2 million for child care on SUNY and CUNY campuses.

Morrow said he believes the funding in the budget will allow the college to maintain the funding it provided the service this year.

Swanger said the amount FMCC receives for its child care facility on campus will be determined by a formula from the state.