BY BRETT FRIEDENSOHN
Students at the County College of Morris will pay more to attend the college thanks to a tuition and fee increase approved by CCM’s Board of Trustees at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 18.
The cost of tuition per credit will rise from $123 to $125 for in-county students, and the college fee will rise from $27 to $29 per credit, effective summer 2017. The cost per credit will rise from $246 to $250 for out-of-county students, and from $351 to $357 for out-of-state students.
A hike in tuition costs has occurred at CCM now for the second consecutive year. At its meeting Jan. 20, 2016, CCM’s Board of Trustees approved of a tuition hike from $121 to $123 per credit for in-county students.
The cost to attend CCM is rising because of a lack of funding from both the state and county, according to John Young, director of budget and compliance at CCM.
For the 2017-18 school year, the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders agreed to give $11.8 million to fund CCM, accounting for 21.1 percent of the college’s necessary expenses, and the state of New Jersey agreed to give $7,000,440 to fund the school, accounting for 12.5 percent of the college’s costs, according to Young. In contrast, for the 2007-08 school year, CCM received about $13 million from the county and $9 million from the state. The college expects that for the 2017-18 school year, the money coming from tuition and fees will account for 64.5 percent of CCM’s expenses, and the money earned from tuition and fees will total $36,062,820.
The state of New Jersey originally intended for funding of community colleges to be paid in equal share by three entities: the state, the county and the students, with each entity paying one third of its community college’s necessary expenses, according to the New Jersey Council of Community Colleges, which says on its website that it “has consistently endorsed this funding plan for community colleges.” Young said that because of the lack of public support, this has not gone as planned.
“That was the idealistic theory back when the community colleges were created in the 1960s,” Young said. “But in New Jersey, that never came to fruition, and if you were to see some of the data over the last 10, 20 years, in fact, the student share of the tuition is actually going up because it declines in public support.”
CCM president Dr. Anthony Iacono, who suggested the costs for the price hike, said that he wanted to keep tuition prices as low as possible, and that he wanted to continue having price hikes in small increments.
“Schools who don’t raise it minimally and incrementally, what happens – we don’t want to be in this position – is they hold off on doing it; everyone’s kind of happy, ‘Wow, no increases this year. Hey, no increases again this year.’ Then, they wake up, and all of a sudden, huge increase, and then, instead of 2 percent, you’re talking 20 percent, 40 percent,” Iacono said. “And that’s a shock to people to do that kind of thing.”
A similar situation to what Iacono described happened at Sussex County Community College (SCCC), when, according to NJ.com, the college increased its in-county tuition by 9.9 percent in February 2015. In December 2016, about 70 students at SCCC protested the lack of public funding in downtown Newton, New Jersey, the location of the Sussex County Freeholder Board, according to the New Jersey Herald. A CCM student who attended SCCC last semester said that she witnessed the protests but did not participate in them.
“I was more focused on the studies, but I was still like, ‘Oh, it’s crazy’ because they kept bumping it up every semester,” said Kristen Sferlazzo, nursing major at CCM.
Sferlazzo, a Sussex County resident who pays at the out-of-county tuition rate, said that she transferred to CCM mainly because she considers herself likely to earn better nursing jobs with a nursing degree from CCM rather than SCCC. Despite her disappointment in the price hike, Sferlazzo said that she still intends to graduate from CCM and that she hopes to do so by spring 2018.
“If I was paying it for myself, I’d also be disapointed, but especially because it’s my parents’ money, and they want to, not go a cheaper way, but they’re paying a bit more for the better program,” Sferlazzo said. “They might be more disappointed with the prices since we’re out-of-county, not in-county, so it’s double the price I think.”
The out-of-county tuition rate for attending CCM is exactly double the in-county tuition rate.
Iacono said that he has a different view on funding public higher education than the Morris County Freeholders and New Jersey state legislators.
“A lot of times, many states look at it simply as an expense item, but a lot of us look at it as an investment item, and it’s the best investment you can make,” Iacono said. “It’s the biggest investment in your future you can make. Provide public dollars; people get a good education, they go to work, everybody’s lives get better. You have a well-educated, well-trained workforce, which means you have a better-educated citizenry, so on all levels, it benefits enormously. So it’s a difference in philosophy: Do you see education as an expense, or do you see it as an investment? I see it as the best investment you could possibly make.”
Iacono said that he respects why the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders does not provide CCM with the funding that he would like.
“They have lots of priorities, and all those priorities are competing, so the same county government that funds us has to do with the quality of the roads, has to do with providing funding to things like your police departments, your fire departments,” Iacono said. “All of these things are vital, so they’ve got a lot of competing priorities as well. As much as we want to say, ‘We’re it; just move the money over here,’ we do appreciate that they’re looking after the entire county.”
Dr. Bette Simmons, vice president of student development and enrollment management, said that she and Iacono are organizing a student lobbying trip to the New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton, New Jersey, scheduled for Monday, March 6, and that any students interested in attending this may email her at email@example.com.
“Sometimes, when you listen to the constituent and the person who is the beneficiary of that funding and have them tell their story, you would go down, you would talk to the legislators, you would talk about why you chose a community college, you’d talk about where you think that you would get you and how that will then benefit the state and the county, that puts it into real perspective,” Simmons said. “You’re not just a number. You really are a person with a story to tell, and so, having an opportunity to talk to legislators, to have our legislators talk to our students about the value of that education and how you’re thinking economically about why you came to County College of Morris and where it’s going to get you later on that will then benefit the community. That’s also important I think to have them continue to hear.”
Simmons agreed with Iacono that it is better to keep the price hikes minimal instead of having a lull without them following a great spike.
“Because we’ve been very mindful about making it a minimal increase, it doesn’t hit the pocket of students so dramatically as we would see with some of the other colleges that went up dramatically,” Simmons said. “We try to stay very focused on what we hear from the students, share that with the business and finance side so that when we do make a decision regarding an increase, we’re doing it thinking about the students the whole way around.”
Tyler Thompson, music recording major at CCM, said that he does not much mind the price hike, and said that he would like for the state to fund the school more.
“I guess it’s not really that big of a deal as of right now because it’s only a few dollars, but if it goes up $15, $20 [per credit] plus, then, I think it’s starting to get a little bit much, so I guess state funding is probably a big thing we should probably go with if possible,” Thompson said. “I’ll see a $20, $25 raise [total], but I don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal for me, personally.”
Lusianna Romero, fashion design major at CCM, said that CCM should explore alternative options to fund the school.
“I feel like they should create more events in school, which I feel there isn’t as much of,” Romero said. “Yeah, there’s events, but the problem is that everything’s basically almost free. They don’t have events where students come and actually pay for stuff. Okay, fine, it costs a little bit more, but it’s actually helping the school out, or for example, even having the community outside like Randolph, Denville, Dover, and all these different cities come out and actually even create this big event where everyone participates and comes and helps out. Maybe … doing a car wash or any other things the school could do to actually raise that money.”
Iacono said that the County College of Morris Foundation provides about $200,000 annually to fund scholarships for CCM students by accepting donations from people in the community, thus making it easier for students to fund their education.
“We’re fortunate to live in a county that’s very generous, and we have a lot of good donors behind us,” Iacono said. “It really makes a big difference.”
Iacono said that CCM will probably reduce pricing in the unlikely event that the state increases funding to the school.
“If for some reason – we’re not anticipating it – the state were to dramatically increase the funding, we’d probably back way off this,” Iacono said. “But we’re not anticipating that, unfortunately.”