CCP tuition high - and may get higher if funds cut, prez says

If Mayor Street's proposed funding cut for Community College of Philadelphia stands, students face a tuition hike and reduced programs next year, according to CCP President Ste-phen Curtis.

But bad as that would be, Curtis said it doesn't begin to tell the story of just how heavy the financial burden has become on low- and moderate-income students.

In the last three years, tuition and fees have jumped by 40 percent. A full-time student is now paying $3,400 a year, which Curtis said makes CCP the most expensive community college in the state and tri-state region.

CCP is now 50 percent more expensive than the nationwide average for community colleges.

Street is proposing a $22.5 million subsidy, $1 million less than the school is getting this year.

CCP is not alone in facing reductions. Many city departments and entities such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art are slated for cuts if City Council goes along with Street's budget.

The administration cites rising health-care, pension, prison and debt-service costs as the factors contributing to a projected decline in the city surplus from $254 million last year to an estimated $47 million in 2012.

And none of Street's budget estimates accounts for the cost of new labor contracts with the city unions coming in June.

At a budget hearing yesterday, Curtis urged Council to restore the $1 million cut and then go further, adding $2 million in operating money plus $500,000 for building repair - for an annual subsidy of almost $26 million.

Curtis was not prepared to estimate how much tuition would have to rise if the college receives the $1 million restoration versus the additional $2 million. Ideally, he said, the CCP board wants to keep increases in the 4 percent to 5 percent range.

With only a couple of Council colleagues present, Council President Anna Verna said, "We'll do the very best we can, though I don't know how much that will be."

Curtis said the college's problem has been long in the making: Twenty years ago, the city provided 32 percent of college operating costs and students covered 30 percent. Today, the city stands at 19 percent while students fund 49 percent of the college's operating budget through tuition and fees.

Nationwide, average total tuition and fees at two-year community colleges last academic year totaled $2,191, according to a report by the College Board. "We are not a college of prestige and power. We are a college of promise and potential," said CCP Board Chairman Daniel McElhatton. "We are a college helping to create rich histories for thousands who are the first in their families" to go to college.

And in a city where 25 percent of the population lives at or below the federal poverty rate and where high-school dropouts are a neighborhood fixture, Curtis said that investing in the college is investing in the city's future because most graduates live and work here. *