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Board of Trustees action saves academic programs

The Board of Trustees at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, MA recently voted to reverse the STCC president’s decision to terminate 5 academic programs. Over the summer, the STCC administration felt that it would not have the instructional budget to support seven academic programs. The targeted programs were Automotive Technology, Biomedical Engineering Technology, Biotechnology, Civil Engineering Technology, Cosmetology, Dental Assisting, and Landscape Design and Management.

STCC President John Cook said the cost of the programs and low enrollment were factors in his decision to cut the programs. Until the program cancellations, the STCC Board of Trustees had not intervened in administrative decisions.

The plan to cut academic programs attracted the angry attention of the faculty, students, community, and local politicians. (For some reason, this kind of negative reaction has no apparent impact on the WCC Board of Trustees.)

The rationale of the protesters was that a community college exists to provide vocational education. So, the question was not, “Can STCC afford to run these programs?” but rather “Can it afford not to?” One of the Trustees who advocated for the programs’ return persuaded the Board to reinstate the least costly programs. The college will re-examine the remaining two programs to see whether or how STCC can bring them back.

Eliminating “expensive” programs is expensive, too

Eliminating the programs had consequences. STCC offered 10 retirement-eligible faculty members in the affected programs a $10,000 buyout. If those faculty members return, they must repay the money. If not, STCC must recruit new faculty members to replace them. In addition, the Board of Trustees agreed to allocate $10,000 per program to develop recruiting and marketing campaigns.

(This is peanuts compared to the $2.3M+ the WCC Board of Trustees came up with to buy out the IT Department in 2019. And peanuts compared to the $1.8M in technology infrastructure upgrades the Board signed off on – money WCC refused to allocate when it maintained its own IT staff. So far, the decision to “save” $600,000 per year by outsourcing the IT staff has cost WCC nearly $4M over the last 18 months. During a pandemic, no less.)

The STCC Board of Trustees will revisit the decision regarding the two remaining programs at some point. The timetable is not clear because STCC must find additional funds to conduct the feasibility study.

Will WCC’s Board of Trustees defend instruction?

The STCC saga makes several cogent points. First, the Board of Trustees (of any community college) does not have to blindly accept a decision by the institution’s president. (Board members who don’t understand this should be replaced.) The Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees does not reject “recommendations” by the WCC president. In fact, they have turned down only one motion since 2014 – one brought by a Board member.

Second, common sense dictates spending $10,000 to market struggling programs before pulling the plug on them. Occupational and vocational programs are expensive to operate. They’re also expensive to shut down because of the extraordinary investment a college makes to operate them. The Board of Trustees should not simply give up on an occupational or vocational program with “low enrollment” without insisting that the Administration make a sustained effort to raise enrollment first.

Third, when WCC’s President decides that the institution does not have the money to run “expensive” vocational or occupational programs – and remember, they’re all expensive – who among the WCC Board of Trustees will bother to defend the occupational and vocational mission of the College?

Photo Credit: Gareth Jones , via Flickr