Newsday Publishes Murray’s Op-Ed on Community College Funding

May 2, 2024

On May 3, Newsday published the opinion piece, “State budget shortchanges community colleges like Suffolk County CC,” written by Chris Murray.

Here is the essay’s full text.

Community colleges have been an economic lifeline for many New York residents. The New York state budget passed last month, however, imperils the viability of these institutions.

Community colleges provide a gateway to better jobs and higher education for students who might not otherwise have those opportunities. For example, more than 500 members of Suffolk County Community College’s student body are veterans trying to establish a career path after their service. SCCC’s students come from diverse backgrounds and often are the first generation of their family to go on to higher learning. Add to that single parents and those who can go to school only part time because they must work, and it is clear that community colleges serve a very important function.

Despite this, the new budget holds state operating aid to community colleges flat for the fifth consecutive year, ignoring the increase in inflation. By comparison, the four-year schools in the State University of New York system received an aid increase of approximately $150 million.

As a result of the lack of increase in state aid, Suffolk County Community College is suffering from budget deficits which can only be closed through tuition increases or cutting programs. This year, Suffolk is seeking to raise tuition by 3.4% after raising tuition last year by 3.1%, a hardship for many of our students and their families, and has managed costs through a retirement incentive program for employees. As has been reported, Nassau Community College is seeking a broad reorganization of its educational programs which is strongly opposed by faculty and some students.

It’s true that SCCC’s enrollment has declined due to a 10.5% decrease in Suffolk County’s high school enrollment. In an effort to curb this decline, SCCC has diversified its programs to not only appeal to those students seeking to obtain a two-year degree before advancing to four-year institutions, but also to nontraditional students looking to obtain a skill so they can immediately enter the workforce. SCCC has adopted a variety of innovative programs from automotive technician certification to training the work force to work on offshore wind farms. As a result, SCCC’s enrollment increased by 2% last year.

The governor and the State Legislature point to the continuation of floor funding, which ensures that a community college will not see a reduction in its gross amount of aid over the previous year. While this helps institutions whose enrollment is declining by spreading the same aid across fewer students, it punishes colleges like Suffolk — the largest community college in New York with more than 20,000 students across three campuses — which have turned the enrollment decline around.

While state law requires state aid to make up a third of a community college’s budget, state aid only amounts to about 25% of SCCC’s budget. SCCC’s local sponsor, Suffolk County, also falls short of the one-third mandate but has increased its aid to the school every year, helping to keep tuition flat in previous years.

Community college students are among the most hardworking, and it is time that the state values these schools appropriately. While an increase in state aid will not occur this year, our elected state representatives should prioritize increasing funding to the state’s community colleges during the next fiscal cycle.

This guest essay reflects the views of E. Christopher Murray, a partner at Uniondale-based law firm Rivkin Radler and chairman of Suffolk County Community College’s board of trustees.

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