Tuesday, May 28, 2024

$4M deficit looms over campus

The college plans to cut $550,000 from its budget due to a declining student population, and although other SUNY campuses face this trend, budget cuts also affect the student body.

Student Association President Michael Kimmer said that while the SA hasn’t felt the effects of budget cuts yet, he has thought about raising the mandatory SA fee anywhere from $10 to $25 per semester per student. He said no choices have officially been made, but this would result in more funding for events, clubs and organizations on campus, and the college could then allocate its existing resources to other areas on campus.

Kimmer said the current SA fee of $87.50 per student per semester is more affordable than the college’s semesterly technology and intercollegiate athletic fees — $178.50 and $205.50, respectively. He also said a modest raise would not financially burden students.

“I’m putting myself into quite a significant amount of debt,” Kimmer said. “We represent the students, and we provide some of the most enriching student experiences through our funding of clubs and organizations and the events we put on.”

He said if the SA fee were raised, currently enrolled students would pay current fees without any change to student expenses. This change, if it is finalized and approved, would apply only to incoming freshmen and transfer students.

Vice President of Administration for Business Affairs John Homburger said PSUC tuition revenue is deposited locally and then transferred to Albany. PSUC received more than $500,000 in interest from deposited tuition revenue in 2006, and after interest rates “tanked” in the 2007-08 academic year in the 2008 economic crisis, the college’s revenue from interest rates has been lower, and it remains low this year. Homburger said PSUC’s acquired tuition interest for 2016 sits at $10,000.

However, Homburger and Plattsburgh City School District Superintendent James Short said this indicates a larger problem, one that affects the North Country as a whole.

This deficit, in part, can be attributed to “high schools throughout the state are producing fewer and fewer graduates,” according to an article in the Press-Republican.

Short said Plattsburgh High School sees stable graduation rates, but other counties are not as fortunate due to fewer people living in the state.

“We do a reasonably good job educating kids, we give them lots of opportunity, yet there aren’t jobs and employment to hold them here, so the young, educated people take off and get employment in other areas,” Short said.

He also said that with the young and educated leaving for other opportunities, a “lower population” is left behind. He said those people tend not to have as many children, and the area shifts into a population decline.

Homburger said there are growth areas in the state that are “holding their own,” areas such as New York City and the Hudson Valley, but PSUC has dropped 12 to 13 percent in the total number of graduates.

Homburger said the college is working on more creative ways to bring in students.

He said the North Country Scholarship was popular among incoming students. This scholarship, starting this year, paid full tuition for students from Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Hamilton and Clinton counties with a high-school grade-point average of 90 or higher. Students must maintain a 3.25 cumulative GPA in each semester in which they receive scholarship funds.
“We’ve had over a 30-percent application increase from that group,” he said.

Homburger said that when a North Country student applies and gets accepted, there is a 60-percent “yield rate,” referring to the amount a student pays in tuition.

PSUC offers the Welcome to New York Grant to all full-time out-of-state students that will assist with tuition costs in $3,750 per semester. Grant recipients “must maintain a 2.0 cumulative GPA in each fall or spring semester to which the grant applies,” according to the PSUC website.

Short said grants and scholarships can help raise student admission rates, especially when students are forced to make a choice between colleges that offer varying amounts of financial aid.
“Money talks,” he said.

Homburger said another initiative by the college to help students and boost revenue is PSUC’s recent initiative to network with community-based organizations in the New York City area, an effort he said is a mix of both marketing and relationship-building.

He said PSUC faces another problem that lies in its education program: Not as many schools are hiring teachers due to cuts that are being made at public schools. This leads to a shortage in the amount of students who willingly sign up as education majors.

“That was our largest program,” he said.

He said business, nursing and education are the top three programs PSUC offers in terms of enrollment, education taking third place in an institution that started as a teacher’s college.

Homburger said although it appears that the college might be operating in the red, PSUC has a cash reserve, which he said PSUC is using in a “more aggressive way to stimulate these gaps that are occurring to us.”

He said these funds the college uses are not investments, but rather, they are funds set aside to be used as part of this cash reserve, which is backed up with cash by state tax dollars.

“We do not have investments on the operating side of our budget,” Homburger said.

In the meantime, the college is looking at the New York City, Long Island and Albany areas, as well as border states such as Vermont, for present and future marketability.

Some PSUC staff analyze data from past semesters and former students’ tuition payment totals to develop a target that will tell them how many funds to expect.

Homburger said the college was $900,000 short of its target income for the 2015-2016 academic year, calling it the “biggest miss we’ve had.”

“SUNY hit its peak enrollment of 471,184 students in the 2009-10 year, but fell to 454,839 in 2014,” the Journal News reported.

He said he meets once a week with Director of Admissions Carrie Woodward, Director of Enrollment Management Richard Higgins, Global Education Office Director Jacqueline Vogl and Financial Aid Director Todd Moravec to strategize about this deficit.

“When we talk about cuts, we don’t threaten loss of jobs,” Homburger said.

He said, regarding the $550,000 budget cut, that if one division can’t make ends meet financially, other divisions chip in and help each other out.

“The deficit is institutional,” he said. “We all own it, and we are trying to do it in these increments of $550,000.”

He said the college is taking all measures possible to save costs and generate revenue.

“We know what we’re doing here, and we’re working at it,” Homburger said.

Email Tim Lyman at news@cardinalpointsonline.com

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