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Education

COD trustees look at ways to address budget shortfall

Options include dipping into college's reserve fund, increasing tuition fees

College of DuPage trustees are looking at a possible increase in tuition fees as a way to address an expected budget shortfall and avoid program cuts.
College of DuPage trustees are looking at a possible increase in tuition fees as a way to address an expected budget shortfall and avoid program cuts.

College of DuPage trustees are looking at a possible increase in tuition fees as a way to address an expected budget shortfall and avoid program cuts.

The college is looking at a possible budget shortfall of between $2.2 million and $7 million based on a number of factors, including a projected 7-percent decline in enrollment, a projected 50-percent shortfall in state funding and increasing salary costs.

Trustees discussed the issue during their Feb. 9 meeting. Board of Trustees Secretary Frank Napolitano said when community colleges were started in Illinois, about one-third of their funding was supposed to come from the state.

"The state isn't living up to anywhere near their portion," he said. "At our last discussion, it was around 5 or 6 percent that the state is covering. So the taxpayers and the students are left to cover the rest."

In-district students currently pay $135 per credit hour – $102.15 in tuition, plus a $32.85 fee. Out-of-district Illinois students pay $322 per credit hour. Trustees need to make a decision by March on tuition rates for the fall semester.

According to a chart presented to the board, John Wood Community College charges the most per credit hour among COD's peer institutions – $157 per credit hour for in-district students.

Napolitano noted in fiscal year 2014, COD was charging $140 per credit hour for in-district students and in fiscal year 2015, $144 per credit hour.

"We're $9 off our peak right now, and a $5 increase wouldn't even bring us back to that peak," Napolitano said. "It would put us back to fiscal year 2014. It's something to consider."

Trustee Dianne McGuire said she was against dipping into COD's reserve fund.

"I know we have a healthy fund balance and it's tempting to go there, but as I said a couple of times already, that's like taking our savings account to cover operating expenses," McGuire said. "One year's revenue ought to cover one year's expenses in a good world, and I would like us to return to that."

Board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi said COD currently has more than $100 million in unrestricted funds in its reserve fund.

"My preference is to take it out of reserves because that's essentially taxpayer money that we've already acquired and haven't been utilizing it," she said. "I'm perfectly happy to utilize it on our students."

Trustee Charles Bernstein said he would like the college to preserve its reserves, if possible.

"Once they're gone, it is very likely that they will stay gone," he said.

COD President Ann Rondeau did not have a recommendation for the board.

"I know that the students are sensitive to this issue," she said. "And the fiscal integrity of the institution is solid based upon good fiscal management. It could be that our enrollment looks good by the fall, and it could be that the state gives us some money."

Mazzochi proposed three options to address the anticipated shortfall: using COD's reserves to make up the shortfall, charging more in student fees for the fall semester and combining the two ideas into a third option.

McGuire said she liked the idea of a fee increase.

"If the numbers do change, you're not locked into the tuition increase," she said.

Trustees are set to discuss the issue again at their March 16 meeting.

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