Dorms at Dutchess a hot topic

Conklin Hall, a residence hall added at Dutchess Community College last year, houses 465 full-time students.  The community college dorm came in for questions and criticism when it was before the county legislature a few years back.  County Legislator Michael Kelsey said he did not believe dorms are appropriate for a community college since they would draw out of county students rather than catering to the Dutchess County community.  The legislature refused to finance the dorm with county bonds. The college managed to finance the dorm on its own, without county help.



In a year where County Executive Marc Molinaro is doing everything in his power to reduce county expenses that so far have included cutbacks and layoffs, Kelsey said he believes DCC is going in the opposite direction of the trend as they are on a “grow, grow” plan.  Conklin Hall is just one aspect of that growth.


DCC spokesperson Judi Stokes said the residence hall cost $33 million to build and is owned and operated by the DCC Association, which borrowed with tax exempt bonds to fund the project.  Stokes said the room charges cover the cost of operation and the college has no direct liability; no taxpayer funds were used for the project. Kelsey said the college is seeking approval for $71 million in financing from Dutchess County for campus projects. 


Kelsey said he thinks part of the money the college used to build the dorms could have gone toward scholarships for students.  He also argued that despite county taxpayers not paying for construction of the residence hall, taxpayers will eventually be responsible for major repairs when the building needs a new roof, a new boiler or plumbing replacements. 


Stokes said the dorm is operating at a 98 percent capacity and there was a waiting list of about 60 students.  This spring, the dorms are filled.  One of the reasons Kelsey and other county legislators were against dorms is because they believe dorms cater to out of county students rather than Dutchess County residents.  In the fall, according to figures provided by the administration, 19 percent of the residence hall students were from Dutchess County for about 86 students out of the 455 student capacity. 


Stokes said there are also a few international students from China and Bulgaria.  She said the college had initially anticipated more students from Dutchess would live in the dorm.  However, she sees a growing trend in local interest.  27 percent of new applicants for housing in the Spring had attended DCC as a commuter in the fall semester.  Housing applications are being accepted for next year.  Dutchess applications for next fall have doubled. 


Kelsey said other counties have to contribute toward their residents’ tuition to go to an out of county community college, which helps out DCC financially.  Two counties that have a high percentage of students attending DCC are Putnam and Ulster at 10 and 7 percent respectively.  According to Ulster County Commissioner of Finance Burt Gulnick, his county paid DCC $899,268 for the 2012 calendar year.  Putnam County’s finance department representative reported paying $658,407 in 2012.


DCC is appealing to out of county students because DCC remains the cheapest community college option in the state, a fact that is promoted on the DCC website.  Ulster County doesn’t have a community college of their own.  Proximity also plays a role, since most students commute.


DCC’s tuition of $3100 per year remains the same for all New York residents. Columbia-Greene Community College charges $3792 for a full year. Westchester Community College costs $4280 for a full year, SUNY Purchase and SUNY New Paltz costs $5570; tuition at Marist College is $30,090; Vassar’s is $45,580.   


Housing at DCC is described as “spacious.”  These aren’t typical small dorm rooms.  Conklin Hall offers suite style housing with a kitchen, laundry room and fitness center for their residents.  Stokes said a double room is $3300-3500 per student per semester; a single room costs $3900. A semester is approximately three and half months.  A student living in a single room would be paying $975 a month for four months or $1300 a month for three months of living there.  Students who use the dorm would be paying $10,900 for a full year if they lived in a single room. After figuring in the $1400 meal plan all residence hall students are required to buy, a full year would cost $12,300.  Comparable costs for a full year at SUNY Purchase would be $20,333; SUNY New Paltz would be $17,496 and Cornell would be $59,591.


Kelsey mentioned problems at the dorms; the police have been called in for incidents, drugs and  complaints of “rowdy freshmen” have reached  his ears.   College dorm life brings in issues that all campuses encounter with drinking, drugs, and the freedom that students have when living away from home for the first time.  During the fall semester, there were calls to police and to fire departments.   Stokes acknowledges these calls but said the college anticipated issues that all other college campuses encounter with their residents.  Despite anticipating problems, Stokes said that DCC remains a dry campus, meaning no alcohol is allowed.  Anyone violating those rules will face the college’s judicial process and could face expulsion from housing.  She said the college has already expelled students. 


DCC is currently operating on a budget of $61.8 million for the current year.  Enrollment has grown 1.6 percent from last year.  This fall there were 10,495 students, up from 10,319 last year.   Of those, 5,066 were full-time and 5,429 were part-time.  Based on those figures, the cost per student is $5,570.  By state law, the county is responsible for one-third of the community college’s costs.


Conklin has been President since 1992.  He makes $183,000 per year, which Kelsey said is higher than the County Executive’s salary but ranks 13th out of the 30 community college presidents in New York.  When Conklin first took the job in 1992, DCC enrollment stood at about 7,000.  It is now over 10,000.  Over his tenure, DCC Foundation assets have grown from $200,000 to $7 million.  The residence hall is only part of the college’s growth.  During Conklin’s tenure, 60 programs of study are now available, increased from 26 in 1992.  There are now more than 160 scholarships available and 13 academic buildings. 


As the college has grown, so too have academic standards.  Stokes said there are 130 full-time faculty members.  Those professors typically teach five classes per semester.  30 percent of the full-time faculty  have doctorates.  Five full-time faculty positions will be added next fall.  The college continues to be geared toward students who are looking to transfer to four year colleges after receiving their Associates Degree. 


Kelsey said county and state taxpayers and students can expect the costs of a DCC education to continue to grow.   Stokes said Dutchess County now pays 27.7 percent, the state pays 30.3 percent and students pay 42 percent in tuition.  She notes that the county portion has remained the same since the 2008-09 academic year, but, with the increased enrollment, the dollars have gone up.  Conklin said in an e-mail that tuition increased $100 (not $500 as stated in Mike Kelsey’s column of last week).  


Stokes presents the college’s perspective that providing dorms allows a student to get the full college experience.  Kelsey maintains that dorms are not appropriate for a community college.  He said DCC should be focused on how to capture in county residents and make sure they attend DCC rather than other community colleges, instead of focusing on how to bring in students from Westchester and Ulster.   Last year, Dutchess County paid Columbia-Greene’s community college $81,000 for Dutchess residents.  He said most of this stems from Red Hook residents finding it easier to drive to Columbia-Greene than to Poughkeepsie.  He suggests that DCC should be expanding by building satellite campuses in towns like Red Hook and Amenia to cater to those students rather than expanding with dorms that attract out of county students. 


The DCC dorms remain a hotly debated topic.