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Budget hole at community college raises questions

A few days ago, I wrote about Lane Community College’s approach to engaging with and recruiting high school students. But LCC has also made headlines recently for another reason: the school has a nearly $4M budget hole that’s not getting any smaller.

The LCC Board was expected to vote on layoffs at its September meeting, but the blowback LCC has received has put those plans on hold. In an effort to shore up the school’s budget the Board did approve an unanticipated 5% increase in tuition.

The news isn’t all bad for LCC; credit enrollment increased by more than 8% and full time enrollment increased by nearly 10%. That’s generated some extra revenue for LCC and has potentially reduced the need for layoffs. Unfortunately, the increased enrollment won’t cover the entire shortfall, so budget cuts are still lurking.

Adding to LCC’s financial picture is a nearly $10M overhaul of a building on campus. Earlier this year, LCC also broke ground on a new Industry and Trades Education Center. The buildings were financed by voter-approved bonds, so they don’t really factor into either the budget deficit or the increase in student attendance costs.

The LCC backstory also includes the fact that the school has been dealing with a structural deficit in all years but one since 2014. At the same time, its enrollment has declined by more than 25% and its credit hour enrollment has declined by more than 45%.

Budget oversight is a key task for Board of Trustees

So, in my mind, that raises a few questions. First, why did the Board at LCC allow the school to run a structural deficit for the better part of a decade? That’s bad financial oversight applied to bad financial management.

Second, if credit hour enrollment has dropped by nearly 50% and actual enrollment has dropped by 25%, why is LCC building more buildings? I can get past the reno; keeping a building operational requires periodic capital investment… but why build a new building when the enrollment demonstrates the need for less room, rather than more?

Third, the size of the full-time instructional staff declined by 22.5% in that time, and the size of the part-time instructional staff decreased by 26.5%. However, the size of the non-instructional full-time staff dropped by only 9%, and the size of the executive staff dropped by 6%.

In other words, the people who were most responsible for nearly a decade of deficit spending were those least affected by their own poor decision-making. The faculty were most affected and are now facing potential layoffs because the LCC management can’t figure out how to stop spending.

Let’s not build more buildings when the enrollment is declining. Let’s not have a bigger administrative/executive staff than the teaching staff. Or allow structural deficits to drag on for nearly a decade before acting. Or treat the students like a cash register to paper over bad financial management. Instead, let’s invest more into faculty, programs, and facilities. And let’s hold the people who are making bad financial decisions accountable for their results.

Photo Credit: Jacob Edward , via Flickr