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Earlier this month, Erie Community College officials cited two reasons for their proposed $400-per-year tuition increase, the largest in the college's history: rising labor costs and a proposed steep drop in state aid.

Last week, the State Legislature restored Gov. George E. Pataki's planned $345-per-student cut in community college aid, adding $3.5 million to ECC's $73 million original budget.

But college officials say they still may raise tuition by the full amount.

"What it does now is it brings it back to the board" of trustees, who will revise the budget based on the restored aid, said ECC President William J. Mariani.

The possibility that the college will keep the proposed $400-per-year -- or 16 percent -- tuition increase is annoying some Buffalo-area state lawmakers.

"I think, given the fact that we were able to restore much of the money that they identified as the reason they needed to raise tuition, it seems such an excessive tuition increase is unnecessary," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo.

"Clearly, there should be some relief for the students," added Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga.

ECC isn't alone in proposing a tuition increase for 2003-04.

Four-year State University of New York campuses will see tuition for in-state undergraduates rise by at least $950 per year.

Genesee Community College's proposed budget would raise tuition by $300 per year, to $2,900.

And Jamestown and Niagara County community colleges are preparing budgets that are likely to include tuition increases, officials from those schools said.

Under the proposed ECC budget, approved by the college trustees, ECC tuition would rise to $2,900 per year for full-time students and from $105 to $121 per credit hour for part-time students. The County Legislature still must approve ECC's budget.

ECC officials note the additional state aid only restores funding to last year's level, and the college still must pay an extra $5.2 million in increased staff salary and benefit costs.

"They're not committing any new money -- they're just restoring the money that was supposed to be there," said David R. Wagner, ECC's student trustee.

And, ECC officials say, the college needs new revenue to pay for changes recommended by an accrediting agency that has placed ECC on probation.

The Middle States accrediting agency, for example, criticized ECC for operating without a surplus. The proposed ECC budget for 2003-04 sets aside $1.5 million in a fund balance.

"If this college moves forward with a sustained tuition increase, it will be very clear what that tuition increase will be used for, specifically," Mariani said.

ECC must balance the desire to keep costs low with the need to boost quality, Wagner said.

State legislators are urging the college to limit the tuition increase, with Hoyt warning that a $400 tuition increase could limit access for needy students.

Tokasz, citing the $400 increase and the restored $345-per-student aid, did some quick arithmetic: "The simple math would be a $55 tuition increase."


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