Budget gap could spur College of DuPage tuition increase

 
 
Updated 2/10/2017 4:56 PM
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  • Trustee Frank Napolitano, who is chairman of the budget committee, said College of DuPage would be in better financial straits if the state paid all its obligations.

    Trustee Frank Napolitano, who is chairman of the budget committee, said College of DuPage would be in better financial straits if the state paid all its obligations.

  • Board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi said she's not comfortable with a tuition increase.

    Board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi said she's not comfortable with a tuition increase.

College of DuPage officials will need to increase tuition rates or spend down reserves -- or a combination of the two -- to avoid "programmatic cuts" in fiscal 2018.

COD trustees on Thursday reviewed data showing the Glen Ellyn-based school is facing a projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfall in its next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Factors contributing to the anticipated gap between revenues and expenses include declining enrollment, increasing salary costs and the state's struggles to provide financial support.

For example, COD's operating budget -- under normal circumstances -- should include roughly $13.2 million in state funding. But because of the budget impasse in Springfield, COD officials are expecting to get only half that during the 2018 fiscal year.

"If the state made all its payments, we would be in fine condition," said Trustee Frank Napolitano, chairman of the budget committee.

Napolitano said the total budget shortfall could end up anywhere from $2.2 million to $7 million, depending on what happens in the coming months.

The operating budget for fiscal 2018 doesn't need to be approved until the end of June. But because fall registration starts in April, trustees have until only next month to set tuition rates for that semester.

In-district students currently pay $135 per credit hour, including fees. Illinois students coming from outside the district pay $322 per credit hour.

The amount COD students pay has been the same since last spring, after it was cut by $5 per credit hour.

The school could raise roughly $2 million in new revenue if it added a $4-per-credit-hour "fee" to the fall tuition.

Trustee Dianne McGuire said it would make sense to impose a fee to make up for some of the revenue the college is expected to lose. Trustee Charles Bernstein also said he's inclined to consider it.

But board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi said she's talked to students who cite cost as one of their reasons for attending the school.

"I personally am not comfortable doing a tuition increase," Mazzochi said. "I don't think our students want it."

She's also concerned that a tuition hike could cause enrollment to drop still further. The college has experienced enrollment declines in each term since summer 2015, officials said.

Instead of increasing fees, Mazzochi said her preference would be to dip into the school's $192 million reserve fund, which includes $100.75 million in unrestricted cash.

"That's essentially taxpayer money that we've already acquired," she said. "I'm perfectly happy to utilize it on our students."

McGuire and Bernstein, however, questioned whether money from the reserve fund should be used to cover operating expenses.

"Once they (reserves) are gone, it is very likely that they will stay gone," Bernstein said.

Napolitano said he might be willing to use reserve cash in 2018. But at some point, he said, the board needs to be open to the idea of increasing tuition.

"I think we need to consider it," he said.

Mazzochi directed staff members to draft three proposals for trustees to vote on next month.

The first would be to draw money from reserves. The second would be to have students pay higher fees. The third would be a combination of both.

The board's next meeting is scheduled for March 16.

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