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UCC budget overcomes deficit

Running an institute of higher learning isn’t an easy thing, but it is especially difficult when enrollment is down, costs are skyrocketing and funding is scarce. For the last several years UCC has been dealing with not only a difficult economy but a stifling deficit as well.

“It’s definitely a shortfall. Our enrollment’s been down for the last two years. Significantly. Over 20 percent. Many of the community colleges are down in terms of enrollment,” President Joe Olson said.

 The situation the school is currently experiencing requires a delicate juggling act from Olson and other administrators in order to keep the school operating smoothly.

“We’re doing a lot of things,” Olson said. “We are not going to raise tuition again this year. We are going to adjust some fees. What we’re trying to do is minimize the costs on the students. We’re assessing everything.”

“Hybrid courses were 15 dollars per term. We are looking at moving that to 25 dollars,” Joan Campbell, Academic Partnerships Coordinator said. “The fully online per-term fee is 25 dollars and we’re looking to move that to $35. Those sound like big increases, but in comparison with our sister schools, we are not anywhere close to what they are charging.”

One of the plans to help boost enrollment is to get rid of the $25 application fee. Since this fee has to be paid upfront and cannot be subsidized with financial aid, it is seen as a barrier to many lower income students enrolling at the school.

“In Douglas County we have an obligation to improve the college-going rate. We need to communicate to the high school population that you have the opportunity to come here. We want you to have the opportunity. We’re reaching out to the high schools more, inviting them to the campus more. That is the culture I would like us to change,” Olson said.

Even as noticeable improvements such as the pool repair have recently been made, other, less visible areas are experiencing the pinch. Some vacant staff positions will remain unfilled, certain repairs and upgrades cannot be met and the plan to start a baseball team has been shelved.

While students won’t feel too many affects from the shortfall, that doesn’t mean that faculty members aren’t feeling the loss of funds. Athletic Director Cheryl Yoder felt that the last several lean years has put a lot of pressure on faculty members to reduce their spending.

“If affects us in so many ways. Everybody across the college had to cut our materials and supply budget by 10 percent. It’s in all our programs. We’re already running a bare bones program, so to look at that, it hurts,” Yoder said.

“We have been in a budget deficit for three years. It gets to a point where – what are we going to do? How are we going to survive?” Yoder said, “The college gets money from three sources:  student’s tuition, the state and income taxes. We don’t have the economy for income tax and we’re lower in enrollment and that’s killing us. That part is frustrating but we can’t do anything about the economy.”

Despite the rollbacks, the situation isn’t hopeless. Rebecca Redell, chief financial officer for UCC, believes the school has started to overcome its financial woes.

“We started looking at projections six months ago,” Redell said, “And we were looking at a $1.2 million shortfall. We made the decision to cut expense budgets, which is supplies, travel, that sort of thing. We cut that back by about $400,000. We cut a couple hundred thousand out of transfers for capital improvements that would go towards building maintenance, things like that.”

Reducing spending is only part of the equation. A boost in enrollment is expected to cover any further financial gaps.

“We put everything together and re-looked at our revenue projections. Dan Yoder is projecting a 2-3 percent increase in enrollment for next year. Budget-wise to be conservative I put a 1.5 percent increase in. Between that and the money we have saved this year, which is going to roll over into our fund balance, that closed the rest of that $1.2 million gap,” Redell said.

“For six, seven, eight terms now we have seen continuous declines by 3 to maybe 12 percent in enrollment,” Rick Aman, Vice President of Student Services said. “That makes budgeting really difficult. What we’ve got to do is a lot of the right things to try to get students back in here. More students here is a good thing.”

The faculty of UCC are adept at taking on many different roles, and this deficit has made employees further broaden their workload. As an example, Lisa Fields now splits her secretarial duties between both Rick Aman and Rebecca Redell. The afore-mentioned Dan Yoder is both IT Director and Institutional Researcher for now. The list of multitasking school employees is a long one, but it is just part of the new paradigm of higher education.

“We’re doing all the right things to kind of turn the tide and get this budget back to where it ought to be. The state is not as generous as it had been. Traditionally with community colleges they’re funded with one-third from property taxes, one-third from the state and one third from tuition. I bet we’re over 50 percent tuition funded at this point.” Aman said.

The bottom line is that the financial health of UCC is improving. The complexities of the budget, the volatility of the economy and the ebb and flow of student enrollment all play key roles in defining which direction the school is going.