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MAP TO PROSPERITY: Colleges reluctantly prepare for more cuts

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  • Map to Prosperity

    Map to Prosperity

    Wednesday, December 24 2014 4:16 PM EST2014-12-24 21:16:46 GMT
    "Map to Prosperity" is a long-term project of The State Journal that will deeply examine government and business in West Virginia — both the perceptions and the reality.
    "Map to Prosperity" is a long-term project of The State Journal that will deeply examine government and business in West Virginia — both the perceptions and the reality.

When Kimberly Osborne takes visitors to a conference room at West Virginia State University, the vice president for university relations and operations turns on the lights and adjusts the thermostat.

When someone else in the main administration building at WVSU prints out a document, it's printed on both sides of the paper.

Those are small steps, but they're some of the things being done at WVSU as state-supported schools deal with cuts in state funding and prepare for another possible round of cuts.

It's something being planned for, but grudgingly.

Colleges and universities had to absorb a 7 percent cut in the middle of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

"Another reduction of that scale is not something we're looking forward to, but it's something we're planning for," said Matt Turner, chief of staff at Marshall University. "How is higher education supposed to function in this atmosphere?"

One possibility is increasing tuition, but that amounts to shifting a tax burden by pushing it toward students and their families, he said.

West Virginia State University has taken small steps to cut costs and increase revenues, Osborne said. 

Cost cutting includes looking for efficiencies such as seeing how space can be shared, and revenue initiatives include marketing college facilities for use for conferences, she said.

"We've been very strategic in where we can be efficient, where we can make some changes," she said. "We're not affecting the learning part."

The school also is deferring some maintenance, such as patching roofs instead of replacing them, she said. But, she acknowledged, deferring maintenance can go on only so long.

"That's why we're concerned if another cut is on the table," she said.

Osborne said as state support has declined in the past year, others have stepped forward.

"WVSU alumni and others who support the university have increased their financial support," she said. "In terms of philanthropic giving, we have increased from $620,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 to $2.25 million in Fiscal Year 2013. 

"This represents a 354 percent increase."

Other schools have taken cost-cutting steps, too. Mountwest Community & Technical College in Huntington went to a four-day workweek for its employees Jan. 4, a change college officials said will save the school more than $76,000 a year.

Offices will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Student Services, located inside the main campus, will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The hours of the Inland Waterways Academy may vary depending upon operational needs.

Dan Figler, Mountwest's chief financial officer, said expected cost savings are $27,380 on utilities, $22,992 on security and public safety and $26,380 on plant operations and maintenance, for total savings of $76,752.

He said employees could save $5 to $28 per day on commuting costs, depending on distance.

Community and technical college response

The Community and Technical College System of West Virginia has taken several steps to reduce costs in response to recent budget shortfalls, says system spokesman Brian Bolyard. 

Among them:

Southern West Virginia and Mountwest CTCs operate on a four-day workweek to help mitigate facility operating and staffing costs. Bridgemont CTC operates on a four-day workweek during the summer semester.

Several institutions share administrative staff to reduce their payroll expenses. Three community colleges, for example, share a single financial aid director. Kanawha Valley and Bridgemont CTCs also share finance and marketing personnel with the central office.

Each CTC uses the West Virginia Network for Educational Telecomputing (WVNET) to deliver low-cost technical services such has web hosting, online courses and online application processing. WVNET also provides technological services and support and coordinates discounted software licensing agreements for the institutions. This year Eastern CTC partnered with WVNET to host and deliver the campus' website, information technology and technical support services.

Bridgemont and Kanawha Valley CTCs are reorganizing into one multi-campus institution named BridgeValley Community and Technical College. Existing locations will be maintained in Montgomery and South Charleston with one governing board and administrative structure. Savings will be diverted to improve technical training.

The CTC System also seeks out public private partnerships to help offset the cost of tuition. As an example, the petroleum technology programs in North-Central West Virginia have received more than $300,000 in external grants and donations. The CTC System also provides matching funds to the institutions to help support high-demand, high-wage workforce programs.

"While budget cuts remain a concern for WVCTCS, all of West Virginia's community and technical colleges have made efforts to keep tuition affordable," Bolyard said. "Average tuition and fees at West Virginia's community and technical colleges ranks amongst the lowest in the nation. 

"At the same time, WVCTCS has seen an almost 40 percent growth in the total number of certificates and degrees awarded over the past five years."

Marshall University

On paper, the Legislature cut Marshall's appropriation by 7.5 percent last year, but in practice it was more like 9 percent because the school did not want to cut students' financial aid mid-year, said Matt Turner, chief of staff.

"The 9 percent cut in one year is pretty significant, but to take it again is pretty dramatic," he said.

This year, Marshall's budget is 25 percent state-supported.

"If that continues to decline, then Marshall becomes more and more like a private institution," Turner said.

Marshall President Stephen Kopp has asked staff to look at where Marshall will be in 10 years with a much lower percentage of state funding.

The school must offer some programs and courses to maintain its accreditation. It also needs admission, financial aid and advising offices, and it must pay its utility bills, Turner said.

"Now we start cutting into the muscle," he said. "We've already trimmed the fat."

Marshall has been trying to increase enrollment as a way of increasing revenue, Turner said. To do that, it must look beyond West Virginia, he said.

"There have been fewer students graduating from West Virginia high schools, so we have to look out of state, and we have to look internationally," he said.

Cutting or eliminating some academic programs is an option on the table, Turner said.

Turner said Marshall probably will be more active at the Legislature this year to prevent that level of across-the-board cuts again.

"These across-the-board cuts are not effective," he said. "Minds are going to have to think very strategically, in Charleston and here."

The state is experiencing decreased revenues. West Virginia has a shortage of college graduates. So how does the state produce an educated work force while decreasing funding for higher education, Turner asks.

"It's a tough situation. I don't envy our legislators," he said. "But we're up there, and we're going to fight it."

Pierpont CTC

Research universities and the community and technical college system are at opposite ends of the state-supported higher education spectrum, but both took cuts last year.

"Even though we are two separate systems, most of the legislators treat us all the same," said Doreen Larson, president of Pierpont Community & Technical College in Fairmont.

"It was a 7 1/2 percent cut across the board," she said. "Actually the four-year schools did bear a little more of that cut because of financial aid."

Only a small part of the state budget is not protected by statutory bans on mid-year cuts, and higher education falls into the unprotected part, she said.

The idea behind cutting higher education was that schools could make up the difference by increasing tuition, but that could backfire in the long term, Larson said.

"We're going to price ourselves out of the market," she said.

That's counterproductive if the state's goal is to increase the education level of its residents, she said.

"We felt it this year. Our enrollment for the first time in six years went down this fall. Part of that is we're getting up there in tuition," Larson said.

Pierpont cut back tutoring services, but it acquired a grant to offset part of that, Larson said.

"We had to cut out some of our courses in remote counties," she said. "We would run those courses with six students or seven students. We had to terminate that. 

"That's where it really starts to hurt the people of West Virginia."

The school has avoided staff reductions so far, but if another cut comes, payroll will suffer, she said.

The school's subsidy had remained steady from 2009 through the 2011 school year. Last year it took a cut, so now its funding level is below that of 2009. But costs have gone up the past four years, putting the school behind its 2009 funding level, Larson said.

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