MAYVILLE – The President and Vice President of Administration of Jamestown Community College appeared before the Chautauqua County Legislature’s Audit & Control Committee Thursday morning to share details about the financial challenges facing JCC due to a declining enrollment, while also beginning the discussion for having the county change its formula for providing chargeback funding to the college.
Under state law, hosting municipalities for community colleges pay a set chargeback rate during the school year. There are different formulas that can be followed to set that rate, with JCC using the total number or full time enrolled students as the primary way to determine how much money the school should receive from the county.
Michael Martello, Vice President of Administration for JCC, said that overall enrollment has dropped by 28 percent since 2010, with approximately 2,715 Full Time Enrolled students (FTEs) at the campus this semester.
Currently the county pays a chargeback based on the number of FTEs from within the county. That’s currently at about 1400 and has decreased over the years, meaning the amount of chargeback funding given to the college has also been on the decline.
For the chargebacks, he said the county had paid the college $5 million in 2013, but just four years later, that number had dropped to just over $4.3 million. That’s just over10 percent of the revenue JCC counts on for its annual budget, but is still considered a significant amount for a two-year school facing serious and long-term financial challenges.
Both Martello and JCC president Daniel Demarte say the school is doing all it can to cuts costs and also improve enrollment numbers in an effort to offset the recent loss of revenue from the chargebacks, but they are also hoping to at least discuss the possibility of changing the actual chargeback formula.
One way for that to be done is for the county and school to settle on a minimum, or “floor”, chargeback payment, which would gradually increase regardless of FTEs and instead be based on an annual rate of inflation.
College officials are hoping the county will take a four-year average of about $4.53 million and set that as the minimum it will pay moving forward. Chautauqua county budget director Kathleen Dennison said if the new funding model proposed by JCC officials was used it would increase what the county pays by more than $300,000.
“There are a lot of things that we have put in motion that will continue to play out over the next two or three years to help us deal with this decline,” Demarte said after spending several minutes detailing all the initiatives the college has rolled in the past couple years. “This financial piece of it is big. It was give us the stability and enough flexibility to put energy behind these efforts.”
Committee members said they appreciated the efforts being made to deal with the drop in enrollment, but also said they would have to do a thorough review on all actions that have been taken thus far before making any type of decision about changing the chargeback process.
“Looking back to when the enrollment decline started, historically the college has seen a cycle of enrollment, so when this phase began and enrollment started to drop, the thought was that ‘we’re just in another cycle and enrollment will bounce back.’ So I certainly understand why, at that point in time, there weren’t dramatic actions taken to reduce expenses,” noted committee chairman Pierre Chagnon. “My question really pertains to once it became apparent that we weren’t in the normal cycle pattern and the enrollment decline had continued for several years and continued to decline, clearly the easiest approach for expense cutting is variable expenses and the college made a strategic decision to protect their employees, which are variable expenses. But what considerations were given and actions were taken regarding the fixed costs?”
Both DeMarte and Martello said they could offer anecdotal information regarding what had been done, although when the enrollment crisis first got underway and was noticed neither held the positions they hold now, with DeMarte having only joined the college last summer. The two did say they would work with their staff to put together a report detailing all the steps that have been taken to address the financial challenges during the past 8 or so years and would provide that information to county lawmakers in the near future.