Press "Enter" to skip to content

Another OH Community College is Drowning in Deficits

In the past few months, I have written about Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) in Steubenville, OH. More recently, I have written about Lakeland Community College (LKCC) outside of Cleveland. Both schools are in deep financial waters, and it is beyond likely that EGCC will close permanently as a result.

Now, it seems, a third Ohio community college – Columbus State Community College in Columbus, OH – is also on the ropes. CSCC started the year with an unbalanced budget. The current year’s budget projected $4.4M less in revenue than expenses. For reasons that are not clear to me, the CSCC Board of Trustees approved the unbalanced budget. (I assume they had cash reserves to cover the shortfall

I was somewhat excited to learn about CSCC – but not for any reason you might expect. The first news article I read about CSCC featured a description of a virtual townhall meeting of the CSCC faculty and staff. The meeting was hosted by three CSCC Vice Presidents, which struck me as a little top-heavy. At the meeting, they indicated that the community college would need to lay off staff because the planned budget shortfall turned out to be larger than expected. Instead of CSCC coming up $4.4M short, they’re actually $6.8M shy of the break-even point that accountants strive for.

I couldn’t resist the three Vice Presidents. I needed to know how many Vice Presidents – and how many students – CSCC has. CSCC had an unduplicated headcount of more than 42,000 students in 2021-22, which equates to 17,000+ FTE students. In that year, CSCC delivered 514,000 credit hours of instruction. So – CSCC is big. It’s about 75% larger than either Macomb Community College or Oakland Community College – Michigan’s two largest 2-year institutions.

Community college spending decisions are unchallenged

(Briefly, I thought I might have found in CSCC the ONE community college in the US that has more Vice Presidents than Washtenaw Community College does – but no! CSCC only has 10 Vice Presidents, so the search continues.)

In reading about CSCC’s financial troubles, a few things became apparent to me. First, someone at an institution that overshot its projected $4.4M deficit by an additional 55% in three-quarters of a fiscal year complained that it received less money ($375,000) from the State of Ohio so that EGCC could make its payroll through the end of the year. However, the complainant did not seem to recognize that had CSCC received that money, it would have blown its budget by only $6.425M, which – you have to admit – is a lot better than $6.8M.

Second, that same institution – which has 10 Vice Presidents – and needs to reduce staff to respond to its new-and-improved $6.8M deficit – laid off 14 people. I’m guessing here, but I don’t imagine that any of the 14 newly unemployed Ohioans include some of CSCC’s aforementioned 10 Vice Presidents.

I’ll just say it: when you have a budget deficit of $6.8M, laying off 14 people – unless they all happen to make at least $486,000 per year – seems like shoveling shit against the tide.

No one is watching your money

Third, and probably more important than the number of Vice Presidents, or the missed opportunity to misspend an extra $375K, the CSCC Board of Trustees approved a deficit budget. The people whom the Governor appointed to watch the State’s money – approved a budget that authorized millions more in spending than revenues.

In case you think I’m not being fair, six of the nine CSCC Board of Trustees are C-level executives at various firms in the area. Two others are Senior VPs and the ninth is a Managing Partner at a Columbus law firm. They do not run their own businesses like this. Worse, the Trustees signed off on at least some of the $2.4M in extra unfunded expenses that CSCC managed to rack up.

What this tells me – and what it should tell you – is that the system of trustee oversight at the community college level is 100% worthless. It does not matter whether community college trustees are on the Board because they were appointed, elected, or sentenced to community service. They are not performing even the easiest, most basic, and least harmless function of their job: saying no to spending money the institution does not have.

No one is exercising authentic financial control over the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. No one is promoting a strategic vision for community colleges or even demanding minimal performance from the highest earning executives. There is no recognition that deficit spending is no more sustainable for an institution than it is for an individual.

Meanwhile, impoverished students who desperately need a community college to perform are getting screwed left, right, and sideways because community college trustees are strictly ceremonial; they’re just there for show.

I hope that bothers you.

Photo Credit: Dan Keck , via Flickr