JCC: Change funding for tuition-free students

MAYVILLE — Because of a decrease in enrollment, Jamestown Community College officials are asking Chautauqua County to change its funding formula for county residents who go to the school tuition-free.

On Thursday, Daniel DeMarte, JCC president, and Mike Martello, JCC vice president of administration, addressed the Chautauqua County Legislature Audit and Control Committee about the possible change. DeMarte said since the day he became the new president of the college, which was about nine months ago, he has been studying the school’s $50 million budget. He said the current model used through the USA Scholarship program, which provides students in the top 20 percent of their graduating class free tuition, isn’t working for the college any longer because of the decrease in enrollment.

Under the proposed change, the county would have a set minimum that it pays to the college, and that minimum would increase based on an annual rate of inflation.

Currently, the county pays a chargeback based on the number of county residents that are full-time enrolled students. That number has decreased over the years, meaning the amount of chargeback funding given to the college has also been on the decline. Martello said of the 30 community colleges in the state, only JCC and one other use the same model.

“Hopefully our efforts will stop the bleeding,” Martello said.

Kathleen Dennison, county budget director, said between 2013-17, the county funded JCC on average $4.5 million a year for the scholarship program. She said if the new funding model proposed by JCC officials was used it would increase what the county pays by more than $300,000.

Martello said JCC officials are proposing to phase in the increase over three years if the new funding formula is approved by the county. When asked what enrollment is, Martello said it’s around 2,500, with around 1,400 being county residents. Terry Niebel, committee member, said enrollment at JCC in 2010 was 3,500 or greater.

Martello said other factors are also impacting JCC’s budget. One is a change in accounting standards known as GASB-75, which caused the college’s fund balance to drop from $5 million to less than $1 million.

“We are walking on a highwire without a net,” he said.

Martello also said the Excelsior Scholarship program is costing the college funds as well. He said because tuition levels for the program are frozen for four years it doesn’t help the two-year college. He added JCC is losing about $50,000 a year in funding through the Excelsior program.