Enrollment is up at community colleges throughout the nation, and the White House considers the two-year institutions a key to America’s economic recovery.
But even as more students are seeking an education in the state’s most affordable postsecondary schools, budget cuts already ordered and even deeper cuts looming will mean fewer instructors, fewer classes and fewer students served.
Community Colleges of Spokane, which encompasses Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College and the Institute for Extended Learning, along with Washington’s 33 other community and technical colleges, were asked earlier this fall to come up with two budgets. One reflects a 6.3 percent across-the-board cut, which could go into effect before the year’s end, and another shows additional cuts totaling a 10 percent reduction that would hit in 2011-’12.
Already, Community Colleges of Spokane has suspended nighttime courses in massage therapy, auto machining and some of its cosmetology programs and reduced its work force by dozens, college officials said Monday. The lines to register are lengthy, the chances of enrolling in a required class are slimmer, and if a student does get in, the classes will likely be packed.
Since 2008-’09, Spokane’s community college system has trimmed nearly $20 million from its budget.
“There comes a breaking point with budget cuts this deep – the colleges won’t be able to do more with less as they have been,” said Janelle Runyon, spokeswoman for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “All of them are making really hard decisions that they don’t like to make.”
Greg Stevens, CCS human resource director, said, “The challenge for us is our enrollment is increasing” for the third year in a row.
College administrators fear what’s next, with a state revenue forecast expected on Nov. 18. They are prepared to make additional cuts of 2 percent immediately, which would be more of the same – more layoffs, fewer classes, elimination of low-enrollment classes and less financial aid.
They could be asked next year to go ahead with a 4 percent cut on top of that, for a total reduction of 10 percent. If that comes to pass, CCS will have cut its budget by 34.5 percent since 2008-’09.
According to a Community Colleges of Spokane budget document, the impact of cuts of that magnitude at Spokane Community College alone could be an estimated reduction of 250 adjunct positions, 151 fewer classes and 4,530 fewer class seats.
Staff at the Institute of Extended Learning, which serves the neediest students, would be further cut, eliminating class sections for about 315 students. Running Start, a popular program that allows high school juniors and seniors to simultaneously take college courses for credit while finishing high school, will be trimmed too, officials said.
“The pain is sprinkled all around,” Stevens said.
State funding for the 34 community and technical college system has been cut $127 million over the last two years and the additional across-the-board cut the governor ordered for all state agencies brings the system’s total reduction in state funds to $167 million, or 21 percent, Runyon said.
“Each college handles their cuts differently based on their local budgets and their local community’s needs,” she said.
But President Barack Obama’s goal to graduate an additional 5 million college students by 2020 appears increasingly difficult.
Said Runyon, “The record budget cuts alongside record enrollments for two years running is unprecedented and making it very difficult for community and technical colleges to do what they’ve always done: keep the doors to affordable education open.”