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Erie Community College trustees approve tuition increase

Tuition is on the rise again at Erie Community College.

The college’s board of trustees Thursday approved a tuition increase of $300, one of the largest ever at ECC, for the 2014-15 academic year.

Erie County residents who are full-time students will be charged $4,295 – a 7.5 percent increase over the 2013-14 tuition. The college also will take $4 million from its fund balance to help offset expenses and the loss of revenue from declining enrollment.

“It’s a tough budget year,” said ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr.

The budget and tuition increase must be approved by both the Erie County Legislature and the State University of New York board of trustees.

ECC tuition this year is $3,995. Average tuition and fees in 2013-14 at community colleges across the country is $3,260, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

A projected enrollment decline of about 3 percent at ECC next year contributes to the problem, because the college relies on tuition and fees for more than half of the $112.3 million spending plan.

College administrators anticipate 11,900 full-time equivalent students, down from 12,200 this year. That would be the lowest number since 2006-07, when the college enrolled 11,547 full-time equivalent students.

Trustees said they used the fund balance to help soften what would have been a larger tuition increase.

Quinn also said two-thirds of ECC students receive tuition assistance or federal grants that will offset the tuition increase. Overall spending at the college is expected to rise less than 1 percent, Quinn said.

The college’s fund balance, or rainy day fund, which had been as high as $20 million, will dip to about $11 million. The college ran into fiscal problems more than a decade ago and was warned by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools to maintain a fund balance of 5 to 15 percent of its overall budget.

“We’re in a relatively good spot still,” said William Reuter, chief administrative and financial officer.

But Quinn cautioned that the college cannot afford to tap into the fund balance year after year.

To keep tuition from rising in the future, Quinn said the college will need help from the state and the county.

Erie County’s contribution to the college has stayed at slightly more than $17 million for the past seven years.

State aid fluctuates slightly year to year. State aid will total $31.6 million in the 2014-15 school year, up from $31.5 million this year.