Earlier this year the Rockland County Legislature approved a resolution to transfer the burden of community college chargebacks from the county to the towns becasue of its budget deficit. With that legislation, the towns found themselves dealing with an unexpected $1.8 million in costs. On Wednesday, Legislator Ed Day (R-New City/Pomona) unveiled a five-point proposal to revamp the community college chargeback program and reduce the costs eventually paid by taxpayers.
Day presented the plan with Legislator Cris Carey (R-Bardonia), Orangetown Councilman Paul Valentine, a Republican, and Stony Point Councilwoman Luanne Konopko, a Democrat. Day said Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, (D-New City) and Clarkstown Councilman George Hoehmann (R-Nanuet) were also working with them.
“It’s a partnership,” said Day. “It takes a number of people to move these ideas forward.”
The first step of the plan would remove the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) from the community college system. Day said FIT, which offers bachelors and master’s degrees, is responsible for $1 million of the tuition chargeback costs. All the other schools in the community college system offer associate’s degrees, which are typically earned in two years. Zebrowski has agreed to introduce legislation in Albany that would take FIT out of the community college system.
“Taxpayers should not be asked to pay for a master’s program under the guise of a community college mission,” said Day.
In 1957 FIT received accreditation to offer associate’s degrees. According to FIT’s website, college representatives and supporters lobbied for approval to include its advanced degree programs. “In 1975, an amendment to the Education Law of New York State permitted FIT to offer BS and BFA programs; another in 1979 authorized master’s programs.”
The second component would require New York State to follow state education law, Section 602 and fund 40 percent of the community colleges’ operating budgets. According to Day, the state has been paying about 24 percent. Zebrowski plans to introduce legislation that would require the state to fulfill its responsibility pay 40 percent of the operating budget.
Currently there is no time limit for students to complete a community college course of study. The proposal recommends a guideline of a maximum of four years for a traditional, first-time, full-time student to graduate. Day said students who work to support themselves or their families would be among those exempted from the limitation.
The fourth provision would set a minimum grade of 2.0 for students to be eligible for taxpayer-funded loans. Day said the current grade standard is 0.5 or D minus. To reduce out of county expenses, students would be responsible for the county portion of tuition if they took a course that was also offered in their home county’s community college.
Valentine said the fifth recommendation would encourage residents to study locally.
“If we have comparable programs why wouldn’t you go here,” he said.
Konopko said she thought the proposal was a move in the right direction.
“It’s a misappropriation of justice as far as I’m concerned as a taxpayer to have the government, the state government impost these mandates on us and then on the other hand in the next breath impose a two percent tax cap,” she said.
Carey described the effort as a common sense approach that was businesslike because it brought together different levels of government to talk about a specific problem and how to solve it instead of pushing it down to the next level.
“I think it really makes sense to get the state, the county and the town in a room and have a lot more conversations like this one,” said Carey.
The chargebacks are the tuition costs that the county had been paying for residents who attend community colleges outside Rockland. The $1.8 million breaks down to local costs of $578,000 for Clarkstown and Ramapo, $232,000 for Orangetown, $157,000 for Stony Point and $170,000 for Haverstraw.
In June, State Senator David Carlucci introduced legislation to prevent the county from passing along the chargebacks to the towns. The bill did not make it to the floor of the senate.