Sunday, July 14, 2024

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ACC trustees consider increasing student fees

Alamance Community College’s trustees are being asked to consider doubling student fees to keep pace with ACC’s expenses.

Currently, ACC charges a single flat student activity fee of $15 per semester that has remained unchanged since 1999, ACC’s trustees were told during their latest monthly meeting. In addition to increasing the student activity fee, two new student fees for instructional technology and parking (at $5 each per semester) would be added, if approved by ACC’s trustees.

Student fees would increase to $30 per semester (or $60 per academic year) to offset expenses for the following services:
· $10 per semester/$20 per academic year for student activities;
· $10 semester/$20 per year for instructional technology;
· $10 semester/$20 per year for campus access, parking, and security.

ACC is one of three community colleges, out of 58 in North Carolina, that don’t charge their students an instructional technology fee, based on information that was provided for the trustees’ discussion.

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Data compiled by the N.C. Community Colleges System (NCCCS) office that compared student activity fees charged by each of the 58 community colleges in 2019-20 showed that ACC charged the least ($15 per semester), while Guilford charged the most ($92) among community colleges the region, said ACC Carl Steinbicker, who serves as chairman of the trustees’ budget and finance committee.

The NCCCS analysis showed that ACC had no expenditures for instructional technology or parking during the 2019-20 academic and fiscal years, the latest period for which the data has been compiled by the systems office. ACC spent $49,880.12 on student activities during the same period, based on information that was provided for the trustees.

However, expenditures for instructional technology have increased significantly as a result of more instruction being delivered online following the emergence of Covid-19 in the spring of 2020, ACC president Dr. Algie Gatewood explained in a subsequent interview with The Alamance News.

“[The fees] haven’t kept up with the cost of doing business over the years,” Gatewood told the newspaper. “The technology costs, activity costs, all these costs have increased but the fees haven’t. We need to assess more fees not only so we can provide better services but also to make sure our technology is secure [and] up-to-date.”

Expenses for defending against cyber-attacks also have risen dramatically in recent years, Matt Banko, then-chief finance officer for ACC, told the trustees’ budget and finance committee in June. (Banko left ACC this summer to take a similar position with Carteret Community College; Christopher “CD” Crepps, a former finance director for Montgomery County, took over last month as the college’s new CFO.)

“Even if we were to increase our amount by $10…we would be way below the average,” Steinbicker told his fellow trustees. “We would request that each of the trustees look at the information and generate any questions or comments that you have.” The budget and finance committee chairman told ACC’s trustees that the proposed fee increase will be presented for a vote next month.

ACC’s trustees last discussed the possibility of increasing the student activity fee – and creating new fees – in June 2014, to mitigate a projected 5 percent (between $1.6 and $1.8 million) reduction in state funding for the 2014-15 fiscal year. State funding for ACC and other N.C. community colleges is based on full-time enrollment. Enrollment at ACC peaked in 2009-10 due to the worldwide economic downturn in 2008 but dropped off gradually thereafter as the state’s economy rebounded.

The trustees had been asked in 2014 to increase the student activity fee by $2.50, from its current level of $15 to $17.50 per semester. They eventually cooled to that idea, after enrollment came in higher than expected and ACC’s administration decided to tap $550,000 in unexpended state equipment funding and fund balance to plug a deficit in the college’s budget that year.

Under the proposed state budget, which members of the General Assembly are continuing to negotiate, funding for the state’s 58 community colleges would increase by $1.2 billion (or about 5 percent) over last year’s funding levels.

However, the budget proposal also includes $76 million for “budget stabilization,” or state funding that N.C. community colleges could be required to return to the state if their enrollment declines. The state Board of Community Colleges is requesting that the 58 colleges be allowed to retain that funding to stabilize their budgets through June 2023, since most community colleges in the state and county experienced declines in full-time enrollment as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Steinbicker said ACC had spent much of the $16.2 million in federal stimulus funding it received in 2020-21 from the Covid-19 relief packages passed by Congress. As of June 30, 2021, ACC had spent $4.7 million in federal stimulus funding to: provide emergency financial aid for students; offset expenses due to lost revenue; to purchase technology equipment/software and to improve internet connectivity; and to purchase personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, according to information that was provided for the trustees’ meeting.

ACC has approximately $10.9 million in remaining federal stimulus funds to spend over the next year and a half, Steinbicker told his fellow trustees.

ACC trustees last month returned to holding their monthly meetings via the Zoom online teleconferencing platform due to an increase in cases of Covid-19 that have been attributed to the Delta variant.

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