Board discusses tuition increase

The College’s Board of Trustees discussed Governor Chris Christie’s plans to instate a 4 percent cap on tuition increases at state colleges during its annual public tuition hearing last week.

A 4 percent increase would translate to approximately $500 tacked onto instate tuition and about $850 added to out-of-state tuition.

Christie’s proposed state budget would slash $173 million in funding from higher education for the next fiscal year. This would be in addition to the $62 million the governor cut from public colleges and universities upon taking office in February, which, put into effect this fiscal year, translated to a two million dollar slice off state aid for the College.

The governor’s suggested tuition cap would ensure that public colleges could not raise tuition by more than 4 percent in a scramble to attain the funding necessary to run financially and academically healthy institutions. This struggle to maintain quality for a significantly reduced cost has been an issue of great concern for College trustees, who expressed their concerns at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The state budget has actually cut the budget for (the College) by 15 percent,” said Susanne Svizeny, chair of the Board. “It has presented quite a challenge for both the state and (the College) to effectively maintain the quality and cost of the education during a difficult time.”

Barbara Wineberg, treasurer of the Board of Trustees, expressed the Board’s commitment to examining other opportunities to trim the budget before increasing tuition for students, but acknowledged that tuition and fees will be an area assessed.

“We will make cuts in our non-salary allocations – reductions such as our computing software and hardware and renovation projects. These are areas we can cut this year and next year, but they cannot be sustained. Then we would be looking at tuition and fees, after we have looked at savings and enhancements in other areas,” Wineberg said.

The state budget must pass through the legislative approval process before going into effect July 1, something Wineberg made note of in light of the date of the next Board of Trustees meeting, during which tuition and fees for the 2010-2011 academic year will be set.

“The Board will be acting on our tuition and fee increases on July 13. That will be after we determine our appropriations, so we’re working with an exact number,” Wineberg said.

As the proposed increases are contingent on legislative approval, so is the budget cap.

“The proposed cap is 4 percent, but where that’s negotiated to, if anything, by the legislature, is something that would be finalized by July 1,” said Brian Block, vice president of administration and finance of the Student Government Association (SGA).

Block, junior political science major, acknowledged the difficulty of finding an effective solution to problems presented by budget cuts that works for both students and the College.

“It’s more positive for the students,” said Block of the proposed tuition cap. “For the school itself, with their financial situation, it’s just a little more difficult because they have to pick up the gap, the tab, with reserves and stuff.”

The College “picking up the tab” is a concern Block’s fellow SGA executive board member, Tom Little, junior political science major, shares. Little sits on the Board of Trustees as Alternate Student Trustee.

“I’m not against (a cap), I’m just worried about the long-term cost of using that kind of action,” Little said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, noting that previous tuition caps at the College “worked for a while, but that didn’t really stop the inevitable rise in tuition and fees.”

Though finding a way to balance budget cuts and budget caps is a situation that frustrates students, faculty, administrators and trustees alike, Christopher Gibson, vice chair, urged the Board to remember that the primary function of an institution of higher education is to serve its student population, and to take that into account when deliberating tuition.

“I assume that the function of a state college was, at one point, to provide the opportunity for a baccalaureate education at a cost-effective price. Not cost-effective for me, as a partner in a law firm, but for the middle class and lower middle class,” Gibson said. “There’s something wrong with a situation where sending my child to a Maryland state school or a Virginia state school is more cost-effective for the Gibson household than sending them to a wonderful institution in our state like this one.”

The Board of Trustees determines tuition and fees for the 2010-2011 academic year on July 13, at their next public meeting.