A significant drop in student enrollment over the past couple years has led to a gaping budget deficit at Northwest State Community College in Archbold, and the layoff of up to a dozen employees.
Mari Yoder, vice president of Institutional Advancement, and Mike Wolfe, dean of the business college, are the first to receive layoff notices this year from the college. Their contracts will be honored until June 30.
Yoder said she anticipates that by week’s end another five to 10 employees will be notified. She said the layoffs likely will affect administrators, faculty, and staff members.
“It’s significant. It’s impacted every level of the college,” she said. “By the time this is all done there will be cuts from every area.”
NSCC’s current $900,000 budget deficit is the product of a continual decline in traditional student enrollment – those who pay tuition – over the past couple of years. Although fall enrollment was 4,531, approximately equal to the same time in 2015, the traditional enrollment was down 10 percent. Traditional enrollment this spring dropped 13 percent over last year. Enrollment is down 30 percent over the last several years.
“The challenge that we’re having – it’s not that the demand isn’t there for the students and our training. I think it has to do with the unemployment rate,” Yoder said.
She explained that many traditional students are people in the general workforce who take classes at NSCC to improve their skills. She said many are being given overtime by employers struggling to find workers, and therefore lose free time they used to take classes.
But Yoder said NSCC also is seeing a decline in the number of area students enrolled in K-12 programs. The result is fewer graduates and not as many students to recruit.
According to her discussions with area high school administrators, of those who do graduate about 20 percent are undecided about their future and don’t attend college. “They’re not following a career path. They really don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said.
NSCC’s College Credit Plus program, an unfunded mandate set forth last year by the state, is going strong but not contributing highly to the college coffers. The high school students enrolled in it don’t pay tuition; the college receives stipends from the participating high schools that equal only 25 percent of what traditional students pay to attend.
And some high school students who earn as much as one or two years worth of college credits in the program don’t remain at NSCC after graduating, as the college hopes, Yoder said. They jump ship in favor of a four-year university.
She said the college supports College Credit Plus but it’s not helping the institution’s finances. This year’s cost for the college to fund the program’s administration alone is estimated at $400,000.
“It’s definitely paying off for the students and their families. (But) it all creates challenges,” she said.
Yoder said an additional budget concern is Ohio’s three-year freeze on college and university tuition. While that mandate is in its third year, Gov. John Kasich this week released a proposed state budget that calls for an additional two-year freeze.
“As a rural community college, we serve the local communities. A freeze for us is a freeze on tuition and fees,” she said. “There’s really nowhere for us to get more money. We really don’t have the ability to recruit outside of the region, so we really are limited.”
NSCC secures federal and state grants but they aren’t enough to offset the budget deficit. “That has helped keep us afloat. But grants are only short-term, and it can’t help offset everything,” Yoder said.
The college knew the risks of a severe budget deficit but hoped finances would level off. NSCC f0llows a flat enrollment plan, which budgeted the same this year as last.
“Nobody anticipated the decline that we’re seeing,” Yoder said. “The times, right now, have caught up with us.”
A Jan. 11 memo from NSCC President Thomas Stuckey to college personnel advised, “As long as there is a tuition freeze, subsidy freeze, and declining enrollments, NSCC faces a very serious financial challenge. Before July 1, 2017, we will need to trim over $950,000 from our 2016-17 budget…
“We all want to believe that things will go on as normal. Surely, at times in the past, it may seem that this was the case in the face of a budget challenge. However, please understand that this time is very different. We must address the budget imbalance in some dramatic and decisive ways.”
The memo continues with directives in areas such as course offerings, overtime pay, expenses, and travel and conferences.
NSCC President Thomas Stuckey said there is cause to believe there will be no more layoffs this academic year. But he said he can’t predict future enrollment, and doesn’t know what the next school year will bring for employees.
“To make promises one way or the other, we simply can’t at this time in the game,” he said. “We have excellent employees, dedicated staff, and this is extremely painful for all of us. But the reality is that we do not have the funds to continue the operation of the college as we have the past few years.”
However, the college will take all necessary steps to ensure NSCC continues its mission, Yoder said, including leaving several positions vacated over the past year empty.
“Our region needs Northwest State Community College,” she said. “The goal is to keep the college viable and provide the services that are so important in our region. The goal is to do it with the most minimal impact to students as possible.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.
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