Monday, October 26, 2009

The Fourth Leg of the Stool

Last week, Governor Paterson announced his proposals for a two-year deficit-reduction plan to close a projected $5 billion budget gap – that’s the good news. The bad news is that the deficit is projected to be closer to $15 billion next year when the stimulus dollars expire. The proposed 11% across the board cut to state agencies would result in $90 million in cuts to the State University of New York and an additional $22.7 million in cuts to the 30 community colleges, which could mean close to $1 million in cuts to MVCC in this fiscal year. The proposed reductions also recommend a $26.2 million cut to the state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) that is supposed to offset tuition costs for the neediest students. While these cuts are only proposed recommendations in the face of unprecedented budget shortfalls, they are simply an overall continuation of declining governmental support for community colleges in New York in the past thirty years. The pressure on county governments is also increasing their financial stress and limiting their ability to meet their financial obligations to their local community colleges – Oneida County is doing its best, but even that is not likely to get much better in the next few years.

In light of these fiscal realities, community colleges are facing significant enrollment increases – redefining the notion of “doing more with less.” Rather than closing our open doors and limiting admissions, community colleges must increase our resolve and commitment to student access and student success. While we can continue improving our processes and gaining efficiencies wherever possible, the unstable three-legged stool of state aid, county support and student tuition comprising the primary revenue streams is no longer adequate.

What we’ve known for so long as “alternative revenue streams” – grants and fundraising – are increasingly no longer alternative. Rather, they are becoming essential elements to providing consistent support for maintaining the dynamic nature of our enterprise at MVCC. The current realities of grants are such that most colleges are finding themselves having to apply for nearly six times as many grants to receive the same level of funding. This leaves fundraising as the primary fourth leg of the funding stool.

In years past, the College would conduct the United Way campaign in the fall, wait for it to be completed and then send an additional request to faculty, staff and board members for donations to the MVCC Foundation. The past two years, we have had successful campaigns of over $25,000 to raise funds for the Access Fund for students who fall just beyond the line of qualifying for federal and state financial aid packages. This year, we are combining the two campaigns and making a single request to faculty, staff and board members. Our goal is to dramatically increase participation, so our focus is on the number of people giving something –whatever they can – more so than the actual dollar amounts. When combined with participation in two Team MVCC events, a donation in the combined campaign will qualify donors for the Four-Runners Club – two donations, two events. Together with the institutional advancement staff, I’ll be facilitating campus conversations this week to share more information about the significant challenges facing our community, our college and our students and the meaningful work of the MVCC Foundation and the United Way in helping to keep programs and services accessible to all who have the ability to benefit.

If you have any thoughts on these items, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.