This is a challenging holiday season for those at Treasure Valley Community College. While the rest of us anticipate carols, trees and gifts, the staff of the college is busy carving $1 million out of the budget. The crisis raises significant questions, but the immediate need is to balance the books, trimming costs to match income.
The trouble looms because halfway into the budget year, college officials realized their prediction for the number of students showing up was off. Fewer students means less tuition and less money from the state to pay for teaching those students.
Enrollment, translated into full-time students, is down 11 percent from last year. But enrollment has been dropping for years. The actual number of students – full or part time – peaked at 3,640 in the 2010 academic year. Last year? That had fallen to 2,477. In just one year, from 2014 to 2015, the college reported an 8 percent drop in enrollment. But that was in the artificial “FTE” number – doing the math to turn the entire student body into full-time students. But many aren’t, typical for a community college. Considered from the point of how many people are sitting in classes, the drop is even more precipitous – 13 percent down.
The tendency is to consider that the economic recovery in Oregon and elsewhere naturally leads to fewer people attending community colleges. With more jobs available, the reasoning goes, more people find they can get work without the training they get at places such as Treasure Valley Community College. But our college in Ontario stands out when compared to sister colleges in rural Oregon. In Pendleton, for instance, Blue Mountain Community College’s total student body went up 16 percent and Klamath Community College’s by 18 percent while Treasure Valley went the other way, losing 13 percent.
Only two of Oregon’s community colleges recorded double-digit drops in student body. Treasure Valley’s was one, and it rated second worst in the state for declining enrollment.
Community members ought to be concerned about what’s happening at their college. First, though, the immediate financial crisis needs resolution.
The college’s approach, frankly, seems simplistic. President Dana Young is requiring every department at the college to cut roughly 7 percent in spending. Such an order implies that each function of the college has equal value, that a maintenance dollar is just as important as a classroom dollar. In a crisis, we don’t think that’s the best approach. The most vital task ought to be preserving services to students, particularly in classrooms and other educational support. Other areas ought to be cut deeper if need be to lessen losses to students trying to learn.
College officials maintain they likely can make it through deep cuts without laying off full-time faculty. They have identified nearly $500,000 in classroom spending that can be cut without impairing a single student’s education. If so, the community is owed an explanation how the college can whittle half a million dollars out of a budget and no one will see an impact.
Treasure Valley Community College remains a critical asset for our community. The path out of the poverty that dogs us goes through the college. But something seems deeply amiss when students aren’t showing up, when budgets need to be amended in a crisis, and college leaders have yet to offer much of a vision for the future. — LZ