JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton-Montgomery Community College Board of Trustees on May 16 approved a proposed $17.19 million 2019-20 operating budget, a 5.17 percent decrease from the current year’s $19.8 million budget.
The 2019-20 budget is composed of $4.88 million in state aid, $6.58 million in tuition, $303,878 in applied fund balance and $1.83 million in grant funds. The proposed budget maintains contributions from Fulton and Montgomery counties at the current year’s level of $1.54 million per county.
The budget retains 98 percent of the current year’s state funding despite a projected decline in enrollment due to a change in the state funding formula that sets a base funding level for community colleges similar to the system that governs funding for four-year schools in the State University of New York network.
The budget includes an overall decrease in tuition revenue of $675,000 from the current year, although the cost to attend FMCC for individual students who reside in the state will increase by $300 per semester to a total of $2,450 per semester or $4,900 per year. The board approved the tuition and fee schedule for the 2019-20 fiscal year featuring the tuition increase during the May 16 meeting.
While FMCC President Dustin Swanger supports incremental tuition increases each year to cover annual cost increases, he explained that the extent of the tuition increase for the coming year is primarily due to the fact that there are fewer overall students to carry that portion of the budget.
“There’s a $300 tuition increase which is higher than I would like, but it does bring us to where we need to be with our budget,” Swanger said. “A lot of that has to do with declining enrollment at the same time that some costs increase even though we’ve tried to manage the budget.”
At the same time that tuition is increasing, the college is seeking ways to reduce the cost to students by piloting a digital textbook program from Follett called InlcudeED.
“This is a program where instead of students going to the book store to buy a book, it’s included as a fee for the course and materials are delivered to the students electronically the first day of class so everyone has the book,” Swanger explained.
The program featuring digital versions of textbooks often at a third of the cost of a physical textbook will be piloted in the business division during the 2019-20 school year and will be rolled out across the campus in the future if it proves successful.
“To be completely honest I’ve never had a student tell me tuition is too high at this institution, ever. What I have had them tell me is the book cost is ridiculous,” Swanger said. “I think what we’ll see is more students have the materials the first day of class when sometimes students wait weeks before they buy the materials and then they’re immediately behind.”
“I used to budget I think $500 a semester for books, now some books are $500, so we’re looking at any opportunity that we can, because I know that there are students who are making the decision, do I buy a book or do I eat,” Swanger added.
To control overall costs, the budget reduces salaries by $965,625 through a reduction in staff with approximately nine staff members cut from the coming year due to retirements, resignations and layoffs.
“In the last three years we have reduced the college staff by 42 positions either through attrition or actual layoffs,” Swanger said, noting that there are limits to the number of staffing reductions FMCC can make.
“You get to a level where you really can’t cut people anymore, which is why our push with the state was so strong to change the funding formula for community colleges, because you get to a basic level where you have to have faculty with backgrounds for different disciplines. That’s why I’m pleased we were successful in that push with the state. We didn’t get all of the way there, but we got a lot of the way there and I think that’s going to help us in the future,” he continued.
Other cuts include reductions to supplies and software expenses by $100,000, fuel and utility costs by $25,000, lease expenses by $10,000 and general operating expenses by $158,000.
Only the cost of employee benefits and maintenance repairs were increased in the 2019-20 operating budget, these expenses will rise by $276,000 and $2,500 respectively.
“I think the management team has put together a budget that makes sense and we’re looking to control costs for students wherever we can,” Swanger concluded.
With the approval of FMCC’s proposed $17.19 million 2019-20 operating budget by the Board of Trustees, the budget will next be presented to Fulton and Montgomery counties for board approval before it is sent to the SUNY Board of Trustees for final approval.