Alexandria Technical College deals with best, worst of timesIn these hard economic times, it seems people everywhere are downsizing or making changes to their budgets. Whether it’s a business laying off some of its employees or a family of four limiting their expenses by spending less on frivolous items, change is happening. But what about state colleges and universities?
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
In these hard economic times, it seems people everywhere are downsizing or making changes to their budgets.
Whether it’s a business laying off some of its employees or a family of four limiting their expenses by spending less on frivolous items, change is happening.
But what about state colleges and universities? How do administrators at Alexandria Technical College (ATC) deal with the economic downturn?
Are courses or programs dropped? Are projects put on hold? Are staff members let go?
Fortunately ATC has a secret weapon – its spring enrollment has never been better. The number of students attending the two-year college has increased 8.5 percent.
Kevin Kopischke, ATC president, said that in a typical year, it’s not uncommon for the school to have students coming from all 87 counties in Minnesota, as well as several other states. He feels the school’s position in the marketplace is a factor in the growing enrollment.
“We are not a large college in the scope of metro colleges, but we are a fairly large college for a medium-sized rural, regional city,” he said.
The ATC offers an associate of arts degree (AA) transfer program, which helps students who are undeclared in their major. Additionally, the school is starting to examine having its own AA degree program.
Currently, students who want to attend ATC have to declare a program, such as law enforcement or nursing. Students would benefit greatly if the school offered an AA degree program, because then they wouldn’t have to transfer to another school.
However, Kopischke said, “Programs that define us as a ‘technical college’ are our bread and butter.”
As for the ATC’s budget, which is roughly $22 million, Kopischke said about half is driven by tuition and the other half comes from the state. Not so long ago, about two-thirds of the college’s budget came from the state and only about one-third came from tuition.
“It’s true, students are paying more nowadays because the state is paying less,” said Kopischke, who reasoned it was because the state has other needs such as health and human services and K-12 education.
And although the ATC president said the college is fiscally sound, there are some concerns and that’s why the college is preparing itself for the next two bienniums. “We are looking at 2010 and 2011, as well as 2012 and 2013,” he said. “And we are not going to look at the stimulus to solve our problems.”
Kopischke said the stimulus will help, but it won’t solve the budget cuts the school faces.
Previously, during the state’s first unallotment, he said the ATC had to cut $310,000 from its budget. It made some changes to faculty, including retirements and leave of absences that weren’t replaced. The school cut back on allowing overtime.
It also reduced its repair and maintenance budget, didn’t invest in $100,000 in equipment and delayed buying computers and software. “All of those things helped to meet that goal at that time,” he said. “But now we have to do it again.”
Because of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s budget cut proposals, the ATC is making plans to work with $1.1 million less in state money. “This is about a 10.7 percent cut,” said Kopischke. “It will have a very large impact.”
However, he noted, three factors will determine the exact amount the school will have to cut from its budget:
•Legislative activity. “We are waiting to see what happens after the session ends,” he said.
•Stimulus funds. Kopischke reiterated that this was not a solution, although it should be helpful.
•Changes in tuition and fees. There could be a 4 to 6 percent increase, he said.
Currently, the college has a finance team in place and a shared governance committee with members of staff, faculty and administration to work through the budget woes.
At this time, Kopischke doesn’t feel there will be any programs cut and there doesn’t appear to be any programs that are in trouble. However, this spring, a program management meeting will take place and all programs will be reviewed.
“Students aren’t interested in losing programs and we aren’t either,” said Kopischke.
He noted that administrators, staff members and faculty members are looking at a number of items that can be adjusted to make up the cut.
“One thing in our favor at this time,” said Kopischke, “is that we have six faculty members that are retiring.”
As a result of the retirements and no replacements, there will be some reassigning of teacher loads and probably some larger classes. There may also be some classes that won’t be available, he said.
In addition, the school will look at cutting expenditures on equipment and supplies, delaying more repair and maintenance projects and it will look at cross-training its professors so that they can teach more than one subject.
On the administration side, Kopischke noted that ATC has been downsizing the past two years by not replacing two recently retired administrators, and it’s planning to not replace an additional administrator who will be retiring next year. Staff members will be asked if they want to cut their hours and some may be asked to change their status from full-time to part-time.
“Unfortunately, we will probably also have some layoffs,” he said. “There is a sense of concern with jobs and we feel bad about that. Our doors are open and we are soliciting ideas from our faculty and staff. We are getting some answers about what’s working and what’s not.”
One project that won’t be affected by the cuts to the budget is the new law enforcement wing. It was funded a couple of years ago through a legislative bonding bill.
In general, Kopischke said, “This place is fiscally sound. We may not have our offices open as much or classes that are offered as much, but we are staying positive and looking forward. We’ll make it through these tough times.”