The 22,000-square-foot student center features a game room and space for the Student Government Association and student publications, including the Atlantic Cape Review.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer

MAYS LANDING — Students attending Atlantic Cape Community College will see tuition and fees rise nearly 6 percent next school year, the result of continued declining enrollment.

“This increase still keeps Atlantic Cape Community College in the lower half of community college tuitions and below the average across the state,” reads a statement from Atlantic Cape. “Also, the majority of our students receive federal Pell Grants so they can use this grant to offset the increase.”

The tuition increase of 5.85 percent, or an average of $117 a semester, was approved by the board of trustees at its Feb. 27 meeting. The board also approved a $37.8 million budget and sending layoff notices to selected employees.

Atlantic County residents who attend Atlantic Cape in person for general education classes will pay $131.40 per credit hour in tuition, not including fees. The typical full-time student taking 12 credits can expect to pay about $1,962.70 per semester including fees, according to the college.

Online classes will cost $163 per credit hour in tuition, not including fees. The culinary program fee is increasing from $338 to $350 per credit.

Tuition at Atlantic Cape has gone up every year for the past several years. Last year, the board increased tuition and fees about 3 percent and cut 24 positions. The year prior, the college cut 21 positions and had a 3.3 percent increase in tuition and fees.

College President Barbara Gaba said at a February meeting with the editorial board of The Press of Atlantic City she is focusing on prioritizing the institution’s budget to fit the needs of its students. She said that despite staffing cuts, declining enrollments have taken a toll on the community college.

“That pool from which we draw, that has shrunk,” she said. “We really have to shift our thinking in terms of that.”

Enrollment dropped more than 7 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 2,525 full-time students and 3,380 part-time students. In 2006, there were nearly 1,000 more full-time students enrolled at the college, state records show.

According to Atlantic Cape spokeswoman Laura Batchelor, the college hopes the increase in tuition will be offset by increases to federal Pell Grants received by a majority of students.

About 70 percent of students at Atlantic Cape receive the federal aid. Batchelor said the grant maxes out at $5,900 a year. The tuition increase still puts the full tuition amount well below the cap.

In addition, Batchelor said the college will waive its application fee for all programs except nursing, which is the most popular and competitive program at Atlantic Cape.

“It’s a barrier to enrollment, and if we’re looking at the heart of it, we are open to everyone in the community,” Batchelor said.

While the board of trustees approved sending layoff notices to select members of the Atlantic Cape Community College Organization of Supervisory and/or Administrative Personnel at its February meeting, Batchelor said the college has not decided if it will lay off any more of its staff. She said notices have gone out to the unions as a precaution.

Batchelor said last year’s layoffs helped reduce the amount of overhead in the budget, but enrollment continues to decline.

“The plan and the hope is that with more aggressive marketing, that we will be able to supplement that and right the ship,” she said.

About 59 percent of the college’s funding comes from tuition and fees, 22 percent from the counties and 15 percent from the state, according to the college.

She said that despite the tuition increase, the college believes it is still able to provide an affordable education.

“In this day and age, when you can easily go into debt $60,000 for an education, we’re still a great place to start,” Batchelor said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.