A resolution seeking to change state laws on county payments to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan unanimously passed two county committees on Tuesday.
The Way and Means committee, and the Education and Economic Development committee both agreed that the chargebacks program that gives preferential treatment to FIT should be changed.
Under current state laws, any Orange County resident who wants to go to school in another county in New York receives the same financial support from Orange County as if they were to go in-county.
While it has enabled residents freedom to go further afield for their education, Orange County has lost money on this for many years because more Orange County residents go out of county for school than residents from elsewhere in New York come into the county for school. FIT was singled out in the resolution is because it is the only community college in the program that awards bachelors and masters degrees.
This means that Orange County, as well as neighboring counties, pay for four to six years of education at FIT instead of two for other community colleges.
The county sent several million dollars to FIT last year, which doesn’t sit well with a county that had a $12 million deficit in its budget this year.
According to a 2012 report by SUNY and CUNY, the chargebacks program with FIT started before 1975 when FIT was still just awarding associate’s degrees.
After 1975, when it starting awarding bachelor’s, and four years later, master’s degrees, the chargebacks program continued.
Legislation to change the law so counties would only pay for two years of education at FIT was introduced into the state legislature in 2011 and 2012, but ultimately failed.
The resolution before the committees called for state intervention to stop the chargeback program with FIT and requested that any financial obligations the county has to the school be assumed by the state.
Jeff Berkman, the county legislator who introduced the resolution, said he was delighted by the support.
He introduced an almost identical resolution like this in 2004, and says the issue is gaining steam in the county.
County Executive Steve Neuhaus is evaluating the costs of chargebacks to the county, his spokesperson Justin Rodriguez said. But already he is aware that taxpayers are losing money on it.
“He [Neuhaus] prefers Orange students to go to OCCC [Orange County Community College], which has the best opportunities in our view, but the chargeback system exists. It’s beyond our control. It’s a statewide SUNY system,” Rodriguez wrote in an email.
Berkman said he is planning to send the resolution to the county’s representatives in Albany, as well as the governor and some other elected officials.
He has also talked about forming a coalition with other counties that have the same complaint about FIT, and he thinks he can get their support.
“It’s an issue that is ripe for change,” he said in a phone interview.
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