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Community college layoffs point to management failure

Layoffs seem to be all the rage at some community colleges, even though enrollment at two-year colleges nationwide has increased marginally. Earlier today, Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, OH announced that it had eliminated 25 positions it described as managerial and staff jobs. The affected employees will be terminated as of January 3, 2024. According to college officials, the layoffs were necessary to close a $3.5M budget hole.

SUNY Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY is considering furloughs, early retirements, and buyouts to close a $3.4M structural deficit there. Enrollment at RCC is up 6% this fall but has been in decline for several years. Additionally, RCC’s president left last year to take over the top spot at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. The system only recently named a permanent executive.

Connecticut’s newly formed statewide community college system may need to lay off as many as 650 employees systemwide to address what employees there characterize as chronic underfunding by the state. Last year, the state combined all of its previously independent campuses into a single statewide system in an effort to save money.

Earlier this year, Cleveland State Community College laid off 10 employees to partially address a $1.3M budget shortfall. CSCC classified all 10 eliminated positions as administrative or staff.

Lane Community College in Eugene, OR is considering layoffs – which could include instructional staff – to close a $3.8M budget deficit there. The Board of Trustees at LCC attempted to vote on the layoffs earlier this fall but delayed consideration of the matter after overwhelming protests by the staff and community.

Layoffs should bring consequences to those who caused them

If I asked you to identify the common thread in each of these stories, you might say, “Layoffs!” Technically, you would not be wrong, but that’s not the common thread I see.

Instead, I see community college faculty and staff members paying the price for the chronically poor decision-making of administrators at their institutions.

Trustees should consider layoffs at a community college – or anywhere for that matter – an irredeemable failure of management. The administration at a community college has every tool it needs to forecast its revenues and budget accordingly. When the administration presents a budget to the Board of Trustees for approval, that signals the Administration’s confidence in its financial predictions for the year.

You might argue that the Administration cannot possibly predict the number of students who will enroll or for how many hours. Technically, you would be right again, but they can come very close. Lately, enrollment predictions should be pessimistic. And there is literally no excuse for a structural deficit. A structural deficit occurs when the institution’s committed spending exceeds the revenue it would receive in an entirely favorable economy.

When an institution arrives at a point where it must lay off staff to correct budget errors, the Board of Trustees should take punitive action against the decision-makers who led the institution to that point. Instead, incompetent administrators get to keep their jobs and innocent staff members get fired.

When the Administration fails to correctly predict the budget, then fails to take corrective action, they’ve failed in their primary responsibilities. If employees lose their jobs as a result, the administrators should also lose their jobs. That would both incentivize poor decision-makers to improve and also eliminate those who don’t.

Photo Credit: martin gee , via Flickr