Bucks college uses credit to make ends meet during budget impasse

    Bucks County Community College, Newtown campus. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Bucks County Community College, Newtown campus. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Schools, domestic violence shelters and food banks have all suffered during the nearly six months Pennsylvania has gone without a state budget.

    Now, at least in Bucks County, community colleges have been added to that list.

    This week, the Bucks County Community College board of trustees voted to open a $5 million line-of-credit to cover some of the 27 percent of funding it usually receives from the state.

    In dollar amounts, the state missed a $4.3 million payment to the school in July and expected to miss its next payment of $4.3 million in December.

    “With almost $9 million more not coming, we have small reserves, we need to make that up,” said Dennis Matthews, BCCC’s chief financial officer.

    Another $4.3 million BCCC would normally receive from the county in December is also in question, due to Bucks County’s well-publicized struggles during the budget standoff in Harrisburg. Matthews said the school would know how much the county will provide by the end of of the month.

    In total, BCCC could be short about $15 million at the end of the year.

    Lines of credit or loans can be a risky step for government-funded organizations to take; there is no guarantee that the final budget will cover the interest — or even maintain current funding levels.

    Matthews said state funding has been stagnant for community colleges for six years, slowly shifting the burden of inflating costs to students. The state covers 27 percent of BCCC’s costs, while tuition makes up 53 percent.

    Across Pennsylvania, tuition pays for 50 to 70  percent of community college operating costs, and that proportion is growing.

    Gov. Tom Wolf’s original proposed budget included $15 million, or a 7 percent increase, for community college funding and a tuition freeze for students attending Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools and the state’s community colleges.

    The Senate passed a budget this week that calls for a 5 percent funding increase.

    In a statement, Montgomery County Community College’s interim president,  James. J. Linksz, said the board of trustees ” has considered provisions that would be needed for such a line of credit,” but does not expect to make any calls during their December meeting. Delaware County Community College did not return a request for comment.

    If schools are just now feeling the anxiety of empty coffers, thousands of Pennsylvania college students have been feeling the pinch for months. The state budget impasse means the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency hasn’t been able to pay out grants to some 153,585 students across the commonwealth, TribLive reported in October.

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