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Editorial: Don't raise tuition at ECC

Erie Community College may end up raising the cost of tuition for the seventh consecutive year, a dangerous practice that discourages potential students looking for a top-quality education at a reasonable price. The problems are structural and won’t be resolved by repeatedly raising tuition.

The community college is facing a budget gap of $3.7 million in 2017-18, and the go-to solution for college trustees is a 3 percent tuition hike. Administrators have said that doing so would raise about $1.3 million.

Tuition is $4,733 per year, which is 43 percent more than in 2010. As News staff reporter Jay Tokasz reported, that was the last time ECC students did not experience a year-to-year tuition increase.

And if tuition is increased by 3 percent for 2017-18, it would bring the cost to $4,875. That gives ECC the fourth-highest tuition in the state – behind Nassau Community College, Suffolk Community College and Tompkins-Cortland Community College.

When is this going to end?

ECC officials keep finding themselves in a deep hole, and in their minds the only way out is to charge students more money. It isn’t working. Trustee Timothy C. Callan’s comment about a tuition or fee increase possibly being unavoidable is disappointing. “There’s going to be pain here,” he said.

That will be true in any case, but the pain should be felt not through a tuition increase, but through the hard work of reinventing the institution. It is plain that whatever belt-tightening has taken place has been insufficient. More has to be done in cutting personnel costs.

Administrators also need to re-evaluate the college’s ability to maintain three campuses. They’re nice to have, but under the circumstances, that may be a luxury.

Enrollment has declined at the college of about 10,000 students, and the system relies on tuition for roughly half of its revenue. The rest comes from Erie County sponsorship funds and state aid, which have remained flat.

These are all reasons that ECC needs to have a laser focus on courses that will attract its base: nontraditional students interested in honing their skills for the job market. It already has in place an in-demand nursing program and a strong interest from employers for students trained in advanced manufacturing.

Community colleges across the nation are finding challenges in lower enrollment, and those in New York State will have to figure out how to compete with four-year colleges now that the Excelsior Scholarship program is a factor, offering free tuition for income-qualified students at public colleges and universities in New York.

ECC should find a way to close its financial gap without raising the price for students.

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