08/23/09 — WCC holds steady after budget cuts from state

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WCC holds steady after budget cuts from state

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 23, 2009 2:00 AM

It's been a tight budget year, but Wayne Community College fared better than most and President Dr. Kay Albertson says the college will be "growing with less."

"We know we're not going to have the funds we had in years past, but the General Assembly did what they could to support the community colleges," she said.

Considering how vital community colleges are to economic recovery and quality of life, the cuts could have been greater, she noted.

One of the actions taken was to require all state agencies to take a 5 percent reversion.

"We had already planned to hold back 5 percent, and it's a good thing we did, because that's 5 percent of our budget that we will not be having," she said. "We were told to hold back at least another one percent for another reversion (which) will probably occur by the first of the year.

"That's on top of the cuts that we already got from the General Assembly. There are other budget restrictions they have placed on us -- limiting hiring, travel, professional development. But WCC has listened very carefully, the state keeps us very well informed."

There will be less money going into 2010, so the college will take a "very frugal approach" in how it operates. And while fall enrollment appears to be breaking the previous year's record, college officials are always keeping an eye toward the future.

"Even with increased enrollment, we don't get funded until next year," Dr. Albertson said. "While we gain from a high enrollment, we won't see the dollars until next year."

The school will do well, though, because of good planning, the president said.

"I'm not hiring, or only for replacement purposes," she said. "We are taking advantage of those retirements and again, this is the time -- we knew from 2007-2012 we were going to have a lot of retirements."

Restricting travel, cutting back on purchases other than what is absolutely needed, relying on grants and support from donors will be even more critical, she added.

"External fundraising at this time is absolutely essential," she said. "But we are going to be OK."

The college also feels the pinch of being unable to provide salary increases, something Dr. Albertson called "terribly sad." Thankfully, other areas have been helped through local support.

"Our county commissioners were wonderful to us from the standpoint of the budget," she said. "We feel very comfortable that we'll be able to maintain our physical plant and our grounds, and be able to use these facilities in the ways they were meant to be used. To be able to maintain our infrastructure with the cuts that we got, with a very good county budget and external resources, we're going to be shining.

"We're going to make it. We have done it before. We may have to use both sides of the paper, write with pencil stubs, but we're going to be good stewards of our money."

Everyone at the college is approaching it that way, appreciative of having jobs in these tough economic times, Dr. Albertson said.

"I have to be optimistic, and I am optimistic," she said. "As we do recover and some of the projections for next year being even tougher, the N.C. community college system will not be able to do all that it has done in the past. Something will have to go."

One of the cutbacks came in the area of dual enrollment classes for high school students, particularly the Jump Start program.

For several years, high school students have been able to enroll in college level classes while still in high school. Last year, WCC received funding to also offer high schoolers college courses at their respective schools through Learn and Earn Online.

"We found we had excellent luck in both," Dr. Albertson said, explaining that, "With Jump Start our student tuition is free, but they pay for all their books and fees. But Learn and Earn online, everything is free.

"In this tight budget year, the legislators had to look at the fact that community colleges were serving the public schools so there was quite a debate about the spending for those kinds of programs."

In the end, it came down to the bare necessities.

"The decision was that those dual-enrolled, what we call Jump Start, students could take community college courses as long as they were science, technology and engineering or math," she said. "They could not take -- the General Assembly would not pay for -- other general education courses, English, history, humanities.

"We went back and forth for quite some time. The final decision is that Learn and Earn Online can operate as it did last year so that students could take any college course for which he or she met the prerequisite. I think we're going to see a record amount of our high school students in one or the other of either Jump Start or Learn and Earn."

There was also a new ruling for non-public high school students, specifically private as well as home-schoolers, Dr. Alberston said. They can partake of Learn and Earn and do not have to pay tuition, but must purchase books and pay the fees.

"We're a choice society," she explained. "Parents today have always had the option of making choices involving education, so to be able to have a voice versus the more traditional education and some of those high school initiatives -- Early/Middle College, Wayne School of Engineering, Jump Start -- it's really beneficial to the kids.

"Wayne County is very fortunate in the number of options that are available if the child and parent wishes to move in those directions."

Other things are also coming down the pipeline -- from grants and stimulus funding to the Workforce Investment Act dollars, the college has maintained its status by being able to respond to the needs of local employers and offer training for potential employees.

And officials have done it by assisting anyone who wants to get an education, by providing financial aid.

"Seventy-five percent of our students get some kind of financial aid," Dr. Albertson said. "It opens the door. People today are worried about how they can afford an education."