Gitenstein lobbies for restoration of College budget at tuition hearing

Though the College held its annual tuition hearing yesterday, students were left with no guidance on how high to expect tuition to climb in the aftermath of Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed budget, which would slash state support for higher education by approximately $170 million.

The annual hearing is required by law, and the Board of Trustees, as a policy, holds it during the Spring semester when students are on campus and can attend.

The board never fixes annual tuition rates at the hearing. The state’s budget is not required to be passed until July 1, long after students have left the College for summer. The College, in turn, can’t set its tuition until the legislature has decided its final amount of financial support for the College.

Most years, College President R. Barbara Gitenstein has been able to lay out several “scenarios” for tuition cost based on varying ranges of state support.

“There will be no tuition ranges suggested (at the hearing),” Gitenstein said in a telephone interview Monday.

Instead, Gitenstein said her presentation would focus on the history of the drop-off in state support for higher education and the gravity of the situation facing the College.

Most of this information, she acknowledged, is already available on the College’s Web site.

“For us to put out any sort of sense of what we’re doing would be premature,” she said.

The last time that the College was not able to provide guidance was three years ago, when the budget was uncertain enough to prevent forecasts for the future.

The board is expected to fix tuition at its July 11 public meeting, after the state budget has passed.

Gitenstein said that she was hopeful for the restoration of state support for the College as the legislature debates and modifies Corzine’s proposed budget.

“We have a great opportunity for restoration,” Gitenstein said.

She told students to focus on advocacy to their state legislators and to push for the restoration of funds.

But she acknowledged that whatever the result of the budget fight in Trenton, the next fiscal year for the College is going to be a difficult one.

The only way to make the College financially healthy is to increase income or decrease expenditures. Most likely, Gitenstein said, both will be needed.

Corzine’s proposed budget would cut the College’s base appropriations by $4 million, or almost 11 percent.

The budget would also withdraw state support for its employee fringe benefit and salary increase costs, for a total cut of about $7 million.

The cuts to employee benefits are a sore spot for the College administration. While the state negotiates the salaries and benefits of unionized College employees, the College is left footing the bill for contracts it didn’t create.

The budget also phases out state support for the Outstanding Scholars Recruitment Program (OSRP). OSRP, a popular merit-based scholarship program, has been credited with keeping students in-state for college.

Corzine’s proposed budget will cut support for incoming freshmen, but the College has promised that it will fulfill the OSRP promises made in acceptance letters to incoming students, with or without state support. The budget would also eliminate the Governor’s School of the Arts.

Governor’s School is a one-month residential program that allows students from around the state to develop and display artistic ability from dance to film-making. The program is a major source of summer revenue for the College, which rents out dorm rooms and other facilities to the Governor’s School.