Trustees still undecided on tuition price

Though the April 24 meeting of the Board of Trustees was announced as the annual tuition hearing, students won’t know how much tuition and fees will be until July 10. Instead, the presentation was a report on the state of the College’s finances and how the College is looking to spend its money next year and in the future.

The board made clear from the beginning that there would be no guidance about tuition at the meeting.

“We will not be proposing scenarios or fees,” College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said.

“We are not at a place where we have enough information about the governor’s budget,” Stacy Holland, board chair, agreed. “This is a State of the Union, so to speak.”

Gitenstein said the financial outlook this year for the College is “infinitely better than last year.” The governor’s proposed budget includes a $1.6 million base appropriations increase and $200,000 to $500,000 to cover the 2007 cost-of-living adjustments in the state-negotiated union contracts, for a total increase of $1.8 million to $2.1 million.

However, in the last six years, College treasurer Barbara Wineberg, said the College has seen a $28.5 million increase in the costs it must shoulder. That includes $7.8 million in base appropriations cuts from the state, $10.4 million in increased salaries, $1.8 million in Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program (OSRP) and financial aid it has had to cover after the state discontinued that program, and $8.5 million in costs for fuel and utilities.

Thirty percent of the increased costs have been covered by cutting expenses, 5 percent by fundraising and 5 percent by reallocating reserves. The large majority, 60 percent, comes from increased tuition and fees.

Gitenstein said state colleges would be advocating for additional funds to cover increased salary costs. Salary costs are a perennial problem for the College because of the way the College’s union contracts are negotiated, she said. State officials in Trenton negotiate higher salaries with the unions, but often do not allocate more money to colleges to make up for the increased cost. This means the College is stuck paying for salary increases it had no say in negotiating, Gitenstein said.

Another area of advocacy is to have the state pick up more of the cost for the New Jersey STARS II program. The program is an extension of New Jersey STARS I, which allowed high school students in the top 20 percent of their class to attend community college free for two years. New Jersey STARS II allows them, once they have completed their associates’ degree in two years, to continue on to a four-year state college, also for free. The state only funds $4,000 per student, leaving the College, in many cases, with half the tab when federal need-based grants don’t appear for STARS students.

Gitenstein also said she would personally lobby for restoration of OSRP, but admitted the outlook was bleak.

“I think restoration of OSRP is slim to nothing,” Gitenstein said. “But I’m going to fight for it because it feels good.”

Wineberg said the College has a list of priorities for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

First, the College will have to cover its mandatory increased costs, including salary increases, tuition waivers, fuel and utilities, maintenance and service contracts, and its obligation to OSRP students already enrolled at the College.

Next, the College will look to restore areas impacted by last year’s budget cuts. It will first focus on restoring the faculty positions it left vacant and then give back funding to maintenance and restoration, information technology and the various administrative positions that were cut. If there is more money, the College will look to increase funding to secure full-time legal counsel, improve student life and increase Campus Police.