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Atlantic County ACCC Numbers Leading Cape May – Cite Demographics As Financial Formula May Need a Nudge

By Rick Racela

COURT HOUSE — All eyes are on this county’s enrollment at Atlantic Cape Community College.
Unless the seven-month-old local campus reverses the trend since Atlantic and Cape May counties joined in 1999, the method of allocating each county’s financial contribution may have to be reexamined.
It’s the enrollment — specifically credit hours — that determines the split of the counties’ share of ACCC’s budget.
That system came out of negotiations between the two counties in 1999, when Cape May County had 23 percent of the credit hour enrollment; Atlantic 77 percent.
But Atlantic County enrollment has increased faster than Cape May County’s, especially the last two years. The most recent figures available, for the school year ending June 30, 2005, show Cape May County with 20 percent, Atlantic with 80 percent.
In terms of dollars, the Atlantic County contribution has grown from $5.17 million in 1999 to almost $6 million in  2005, a 15 percent increase. The Cape May County contribution has increased from $1.8 million to not quite $1.9 million, a 5 percent increase.
Cape May County Administrator Stephen O’Connor acknowledged that “the issue is raised each budget year in the preliminary meeting before the Board of School Estimate.
“But there is no need to make a move until we see what the campus in Cape May County does,” he said.  “It is not an urgent problem. We knew from the outset that this might have to be looked at if the Atlantic County student population started to exceed the percentage initially looked at.
“It has to be financially equitable,” he said. “If it is inequitable and there is an unfair burden on Atlantic County, then we have to revisit the formula.”
Thomas Auch, the consultant to Cape May County instrumental in 1999 in devising the formula that based cost sharing on enrollment rather than ratables, said Monday that, enrollment is to be preferred over equalized valuation.
If equalized valuation had been used to divide costs, Cape May County would have been paying a much higher share. Freeholders had told Auch to come up with a formula that would not cost Cape May County more than it was paying in chargebacks.
“Paying based on use is much more equitable than using property values, which may have nothing to do with use,” he  said Monday.
 “These figures do not represent the new campus,” he pointed out. “We need a year or two of it under our belt. If it becomes badly skewed we need to relook at it. But I would like it nudged as opposed to a complete change.”
ACCC President Peter Mora told the Herald that demographics seemed to be the key factor in Atlantic’s greater enrollment growth.
“Cape May County has a population rate of growth slower than Atlantic,” he said. “Also, Cape May County has an older demographic, one that is less likely to generate enrollment in college, while Atlantic County has younger families that would generate college enrollment.”
He pointed out that Atlantic County’s K-12 student population is larger and growing; this county’s is shrinking.
“If we only took high school enrollment we could project our enrollment,” he said. “But fortunately we have a large population, 40-50 percent, that does not come directly from high school. The average age of our student is 29. They used to be called ‘nontraditional,’ but they’re not called that anymore.”
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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