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SUNY report suggests changing system of community college 'chargebacks'

A new state report takes aim at the controversial issue of community college "chargebacks," but the study isn't quite what Erie County was hoping for.
Officials from Erie County and its community college have been pushing to get rid of the state law that requires New York counties to be assessed a chargeback for every resident who attends a community college in another county.
It's costing Erie County taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
But discontinuing the practice of chargebacks is not even raised as an option in the report released this month by the State University of New York.
"While we're appreciative of the hard work on this chargeback report, it doesn't seem to go far enough in answering the inequities of the chargebacks," said Erie Community College President Jack F. Quinn Jr.
"Frankly," Quinn said, "with the report as it stands today, it's not likely any major changes will be made."
Erie County typically has been a big loser with chargebacks.
ECC took in nearly $700,000 in chargeback revenue from other counties last year, but Erie County dispersed nearly $5 million to other community colleges as reimbursement for the more than 3,000 county residents enrolled elsewhere.
SUNY conducted a report on chargebacks in response to an outcry from local governments around New York that have complained they can't afford to help fund another county's community college while facing their own stagnant revenues, rising health care costs and a state property tax cap.
The SUNY study offers some history of chargebacks - which date back to the 1950s - and lends some understanding to the complicated issue. The report also recommends some changes to this relatively obscure state education law.
The study suggests that the state help counties pick up the chargeback tab for their students earning bachelor's and master's degrees at the Fashion Institute of Technology - a major sticking point for critics of chargebacks.
The study also recommends developing a uniform chargeback rate for community colleges, as opposed to the wide range of rates that exist now.
Both should help Erie County, but it doesn't address the crux of the problem: As Erie County's funding to ECC has remained flat, the amount it has to reimburse other community colleges has risen 128 percent in the past decade.
Erie County is in the minority.
For most counties around the state, the chargeback revenue coming in is a lot more than what counties pay out.
"The political will to get this changed isn't there, because so many colleges like it the way it is," Quinn said. "Their state legislators are likely to just let it be."
Still, the Erie County Legislature went on record recently asking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature to discontinue chargebacks.
The ECC board also asked Quinn to continue to make its case to SUNY, which is taking comments before adopting a final version of the report.
"We want to make certain the chancellor and the SUNY board of trustees understand our situation and encourage them to reflect our situation in their formal policy," said ECC Trustee Dennis P. Murphy.