Plattsburgh, NY – North Country Community College President Dr. Steve Tyrell and college and university officials from across the region shared their ideas for making college more affordable at an Oct. 3 “Higher Education Roundtable” organized by New York State Assemblyman Billy Jones.
Held at Clinton Community College’s new Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, the two-hour long panel focused on financial aid, state funding issues and potential partnerships. In addition to Tyrell, Clinton Community College President Ray DiPasquale, Paul Smith’s College President Cathy Dove, SUNY Plattsburgh Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Ken Knelly and other college leaders participated.
“We had a very frank conversation about the needs of our colleges and universities and what we can all do to help make higher education more affordable for our students and families,” Assemblyman Jones said.
Creating more awareness of financial aid opportunities, especially for non-traditional students, was atop the priority list. Jones is sponsoring an Oct. 19 Financial Aid Forum at Clinton Community College where representatives from the area’s colleges and universities will be available to answer questions about the financial aid process.
“We need to educate parents and potential students on how they can pay for their education,” Jones said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there, but some people just don’t know about them.”
Tyrell said many non-traditional students don’t believe they’re eligible for financial aid.
“They’re just as eligible as anybody else, but financial aid is complicated,” he said. “We need to help people understand the process, which will open up doors for them and help all of us grow our enrollment.”
Tyrell suggested redirecting the state’s new Excelsior Scholarship program, which is geared toward students from middle-income families, to non-traditional adults who are working and have family responsibilities, so they can afford to go to college and complete their degrees.
The erosion of “base” state aid to community colleges was also cited as an obstacle to keeping higher education affordable. The state has continually failed to meet its statutory requirement to fund up to 40 percent of community college costs each year. At North Country, it’s been 30 years since that requirement was met.
“If you look at the decline in state funding, you can see that it corresponds with increased costs to our students,” Tyrell said. “In 2015-16, if the state had met its statutory requirement, it would have reduced our tuition and fees by over $1,000, or about a 20 percent reduction in costs to our students.”
Tyrell also called for revisiting the state’s bond-match program for facility upgrades to community colleges. The state will match every dollar that a college’s sponsoring county puts on the table for a project, but it’s difficult for counties to find the money, given their budget constraints and the state’s tax cap.
In addition, the state’s capital funding rate for community colleges — $300 for every full-time-equivalent student – hasn’t been changed since the 1970s, Tyrell noted.
“If the state looked at changing the rate it would at least position us to start doing capital improvements so we wouldn’t have to take it out of our operating budget,” Tyrell said. “It has a domino effect, where the costs are being passed on to our students because the state isn’t covering the aid side of it. We need some other ways in which to do capital.”
Tyrell and other college officials also talked about how they’re partnering to keep college affordable and create more opportunities for students.
Earlier this year, North Country and Paul Smith’s signed an agreement that allows NCCC students to pay state-level tuition rates to continue their education at Paul Smith’s.
North Country is also working with SUNY Potsdam on a plan to help people who don’t meet the academic requirements to get into the four-year college.
“We’ve targeted students downstate who can come up to Potsdam, get their associate’s degree there as students of North Country, then stay at Potsdam and finish their bachelor’s degree,” Tyrell said. “We’d give those students access to higher education, which is a mission for SUNY, and it helps us diversify to meet our enrollment goals.”
“We all have to think out of the box about how can we create partnerships that benefit access and affordability.”
Help solve it
Assemblyman Jones acknowledged that the state hasn’t provided the required funding for its colleges and universities.
“There’s no question about it. You just have to look at the numbers,” Jones told the group. “The Assembly has been at the forefront of helping our maintenance of effort. We can also help with the capital. You have to have an inviting campus and facilities to attract students, which can help increase enrollment.”
“College affordability and sustaining our higher education facilities and campuses here in the North Country is critical. We should do everything we can to support you, and support our students and our families. And the more you advocate, the more you tell me what your concerns and problems are, then I can help solve it.”
About North Country Community College
As the only public college located in the Adirondack Park, North Country Community College provides educational, cultural and recreational programming to a 3,500 square mile service area with 90,000 inhabitants. The College maintains three campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga, New York; an extensive high school-based academic partnership; and online course offerings. North Country Community College is part of the SUNY (State University of New York) system. With 64 unique Colleges and Universities, SUNY provides learning environments for every type of student, every stage of life, and every kind of passion. For more information, visit nccc.edu.