07/27/11 — Wayne Community College facing budget crunch

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Wayne Community College facing budget crunch

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 27, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne Community College Board of Trustees discussed the status of enrollment, budgets, internal reorganization of key positions and possible consolidation with other community colleges at its Tuesday night meeting.

Dr. Kay Albertson, president, remains optimistic on all counts, she said.

While recent years' plummeting economy has come to mean restrictive measures -- no travel or new hires this past year, for example -- it also typically equates to a spike in student numbers, she said.

As funds are pared back and jobs more sparse, enrollment at community colleges historically increases as students return for training and education to prepare for the job market.

FTEs, or full-time equivalent, numbers are the largest in the history of the college, Mrs. Albertson said -- 4,092 compared to 3,987 in 2010. That makes a difference as officials prioritize and plan programs.

By contrast, enrollment during the summer months is "relatively small," Mrs. Albertson said, but officials don't worry about that as much since the state doesn't calculate those numbers into the funding equation.

"What we're really going to focus on is what are those numbers going to look like in the fall and spring of 2012," she told the board. "Right now, projections for the fall are uncertain. We don't believe that they're going to be higher than the fall and spring of 2010 and 2011, when we were well over 4,300 students in just curriculum alone."

Registration starts Aug. 1, with more than 3,000 students anticipated for the fall semester, she said. In the meantime, she said officials are taking a "wait and see" approach, helping students find loans and grants as much as possible.

"It certainly won't be for lack of effort on our part as our numbers do slack down some," she said, adding, "One of the positive things about our enrollment going down is that maybe people are going back to work.

"We're certainly hoping that our graduates got jobs and that those people taking courses with us can go out and find employment."

There is an "ebb and flow" that coincides with the economy, she noted, and it will be hard to beat last year's numbers, which were among the college's highest. Coupled with the rising gas prices and tuition increases, it will be interesting to see what happens, she said.

Locally, the county commission has been very good to the college with funds, Mrs. Albertson said. The county budget comprises about 12.7 percent of the WCC total budget.

The state allotment, meanwhile, is $22 million, but that's just "on paper." It will actually fall closer to $21.5 million, she calculated.

The president said she was told last week that the state was requesting colleges withhold 2 percent for reversion.

"We have got a lot of variables we're juggling up in the air," she said. "We'll hold back 2 percent."

The college, she explained, would be in a lot worse shape were it not for the enrollment growth. Last year's numbers especially helped, she noted.

"We're going to be just fine for the 2011-12 budget year," she said. "It's ink on paper but I do think that the budget, with those external funds (grants, etc.) that are continuing for this year ... we'll be in good shape to offer the programs that we're known for.

"You people know that there are no salary increases across the board again for the third year, that's a tough thing. It's a tough thing for me to look at people working as hard as they do. But people seem to understand that -- they don't like it but they understand."

One thing the administration has looked at is a reorganization plan it hopes will streamline positions and effectiveness as the college looks to the future.

Shifts were made in three key administrative roles at the college, all effective Aug. 1, she explained.

Gene Smith, formerly division chair for arts and sciences, has been named associate vice president for academic and student services.

Vice president of academic and student services, meanwhile, will be Dr. Peggy Teague, who essentially takes on duties of supervising the student development area. The merger, Mrs. Albertson said, is not unlike the position she herself held when then-president Dr. Ed Wilson was at the helm.

Through an internal memo issued to staff earlier in the month, she explained her plan to go back to that model.

Perhaps the biggest move, designed to strengthen the college in the area of technology, was moving Dr. Linda Nelms from vice president of student services to special assistant to the president.

"Linda is going to be providing an incredible service for me, but more for this institution," Mrs. Albertson said. "Linda is an expert in the area of technology."

The president said the question of how to best "grow this institution" is something that can't simply be done with brick and mortar.

"We have got a lot of students," she said. "We have got to grow this institution's enrollment with students' access to technology."

Mrs. Albertson said in many respects WCC is still "at the elementary level" with such programs as distance education, and needs to advance. Ms. Nelms will make that happen, she said.

"She's going to tackle this as a major project this fall," the president said. "And at the same time, she's going to tackle social networking. We have got to have a philosophy, we have got to know what we want to do with social networking."

The board asked the president about the latest movement by the state to consolidate 26 of its smaller community colleges. While WCC was not on the list, early speculation was that services could be effected if colleges within a 30-mile radius had to be merged.

While it is still being passed from committee to committee, Mrs. Albertson said in many circles, the sense is that the effort "is going to die."

She said she believes the state, with a thriving 58 community college system, has come too far to regress now. Institutions like WCC are part of a community's identity and that might even be more true in the smaller regions.

Board member Sam Hunter applauded not only Mrs. Albertson's administrative leadership at the college, but her ability to remain positive in light of budget constraints and other threats of cutbacks.

"Everybody else does his or her share and that's just the way it is," she replied. "We're going to be hiring and refilling positions. Right now we're not in the freeze and we're taking advantage of that. I wish we could give them some salary increases but (the staff) look at each other and say, 'We have jobs and we're among the fortunate to have jobs.'"