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THERE’S A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

by Ronald A. Williams, President

For those of you who remember the folk tune about a hole in the bucket, you know that unless the hole is patched, the water will continue to drain from the bucket. The same seems to be true of our college budget. The recently announced decrease in state funding for community colleges will put a huge hole in our revenue bucket. Without additional sources of funding and/or budget cuts, that hole will continue to drain the academic and student services we offer.

First and foremost, let me address some of the concerns and misconceptions that you may have heard about this issue.

How big is the cut? Our current budget is not being cut. What is being cut is the projected increase in state funding for FY03. As you know, the state of Maryland has a formula for determining the amount of funding it distributes to all community colleges. For the most part, that figure is based on a per/student formula; the more students we have, the more money we get. In FY03, the state will decrease the amount of money budgeted for each college. If the formula had been fully funded, we would have received a $1.9 million increase in our budget. Instead, we will receive only an additional $70,000. Our FY03 budget was based on receiving the projected $1.9 million. Instead, we have to find ways to increase revenues and cut the budget in order to compensate for the shortfall.

Will personnel be cut? The answer is no. We will protect our staff at all costs. In fact, we have included a modest salary improvement in the FY03 budget. At the same time, we will not create as many new faculty or staff slots. I remain totally dedicated to creating new faculty positions, but our rate of growth will have to be much slower.

Will the strategic plan change? Again, the answer is no. We remain committed to the eight strategic initiatives and corresponding goals reflected in our new vision and the Five-Year Strategic Goals publication you received. However, the rate at which we implement these goals will be slower. We also will redouble our efforts to seek alternative funding sources to implement specific goals.

How will the college find additional funds? We have identified three ways to make up the funding shortfall. First, we have raised the instructional services fee by $5 per credit. Please remember that, in recent years, we have lowered or maintained tuition costs. A $5 increase will be the first fee increase in many years. The proceeds from this increase will allow us to move forward with our technology initiative. Second, we will transfer from our reserves $750,000. This is approximately half of the reserve fund. Third, we will make cuts in some areas that affect program administration and services. These strategies will enable us to continue our commitment to providing high-quality programs for all of our students while protecting staff and faculty positions.

We face a Catch-22 as we try to fix the hole in our budgetary bucket. We know that many people go back to school when the economy slows or unemployment increases. But who will pay for the cost of their education? Because of insufficient state and county support, the only avenue left open to colleges is to raise tuition at a time when students may be least able to afford the increase.

We face the same problem as in other states. A recent article in University Business (March 2002) pointed to huge tuition increases throughout the country. In fall 2002, University of Illinois students will face a 10 percent tuition increase topping off a 37 percent, two-year tuition jump. Students at the University of Minnesota will face a 13.6 percent increase. And community colleges—faced with an overflow of students from four-year schools that cannot accommodate them—are also hiking tuition. For example, students at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, will likely face their second 8.6 percent tuition increase in two years.

So, how will we cope? Although there are no easy answers, I am confident that we can find an equitable mix of increased tuition and fees, reserve fund revenues, and judicious budget cuts. Prince George’s Community College is a highly adaptive institution. I am sure that there are inventive ways of dealing with the impending shortfall. I invite all of you to participate in the process of finding more efficient ways of managing our limited resources so we can continue to serve our students and community.

When we applied to the AAC&U for the Greater Expectations Award, we titled our application: Mater Artium Necessitas—Necessity is the mother of invention. We demonstrated our talent for embracing academic innovation as a necessity for our survival and growth. I know that the same creativity and dedication to academic excellence and intellectual rigor will go a long way in helping us "fix" the hole in our budgetary bucket.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 17, No. 4

Spring 2002