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Tuition at Erie Community College to increase by 3.5 percent

Tuition at Erie County Community College will increase to $4,900 in 2017-18 -- 3.5 percent more than the current tuition of $4,733.

Trustees voted unanimously Thursday morning to approve a $110.8 million budget that includes a tuition hike for the seventh straight year.

Tuition has grown by 43 percent since 2010, which is the last time that ECC students did not see a year-to-year tuition hike.

"I don't think any of us take lightly the idea of increasing tuition," said Stephen Boyd, a trustee. "But we live in a world that we don't control the birth rates, and therefore we can only do so much with respect to controlling enrollment, which has so much much to do with our budget."

Average tuition for 30 community colleges in New York was $4,366 in 2016-17. ECC's current tuition is the fourth highest in the state behind Nassau Community College, Suffolk Community College and Tompkins-Cortland Community College.

The approved budget will increase spending from $108.5 million in 2016-17. All of the increase is due to a $2.4 million project funded in the 2017-18 budget to overhaul the college's human resources, finance, student services and payroll computer systems. The board is looking to award a contract to Workday to install "enterprise resource planning" software.

ECC's current system, last upgraded in 2003, is outdated, hamstringing efforts at the college to improve productivity and analyze data critically, according to administrators and trustees.

Tuition increases have coincided with enrollment declines at the three-campus college of roughly 10,000 students. ECC relies on tuition revenue for about half of its revenue. The other half comes from a mix of Erie County sponsorship funds and state aid, and those sources of funding have remained relatively flat.

State legislators agreed in April to increase base aid to community colleges by $50 per full-time equivalent student. But the base aid, which will be $2,747 per student, is based on enrollment numbers, so even with an increase in the rate, most community colleges, including ECC, were still losing on the total amount of state aid they receive year-to-year. State University of New York officials estimated the loss to the 30 community colleges statewide at $16 million. At ECC, it is $341,636.

At the same time, fewer enrolled students also amounts to fewer tuition dollars. ECC officials anticipate another 2 percent decline in enrollment in 2017-18.

Some trustees pointed out that even with the latest increase, state and federal financial aid programs will cover the full cost of tuition for many ECC students. Trustee Timothy C. Callan said that reality gave him "a little bit of solace" in voting to approve another tuition increase.

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