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OH Community College is a Study in Oversight Failure

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the precarious financial position of Lakeland Community College (LKCC) in Kirtland, OH. The Ohio Auditor of State placed the school on a special status called “fiscal watch.” The LKCC Board claimed that it had no idea that the school’s finances were unstable. It further claimed that the school’s administration was uncooperative in providing the Board with information.

Put nicely, that’s hooey. The Board has a lot of authority, and it has the ability to force the administration to cooperate. It can also remove uncooperative administrator(s) and refuse to authorize major spending without sufficient information about the school’s financial condition. More likely, the Board was on cruise control until the Auditor’s report forced them to hit the brakes.

Today, LKCC announced that it had trimmed an additional 17 management and staff positions, which will save the college about $1.5M per year. Recently, LKCC laid off 25 managerial and staff employees. Although the college has not said how many of the reductions involve full-time employees, based on the savings, it appears as though the college cut full-time positions.

The State Auditor’s report indicated that LKCC was both overstaffed and suffering from a massive decline in enrollment. Calling LKCC “overstaffed” is a kindness. Over the past ten years, LKCC has recorded an average of 229 non-instructional staff of which an average of48 are executive and managerial employees. That compares to an average of 120 full time instructional personnel.

I’ve never encountered a community college that didn’t say their top priority was their students. When you look more closely, though, you see that many of these colleges that claim to prioritize their students have inordinately large non-instructional staff, a generous slice of which is classified as executive/managerial with an admirable growth history.

Community college administration grows unchecked

In LKCC’s case, in 2007, the school’s executive/managerial staff consisted of about 6% of its full-time employees. By 2009, that percentage had jumped to 11%. By 2012, the executives made up about 16% of LKCC’s staff, and by the next year – 2013 – executives comprised 15% of LKCC’s full-time workforce. That percentage has ranged between 12%-14% since then. Today, more than one out of five LKCC full time employees is dedicated to management or executive administration. This compares to 2007, when the school employed one manager or administrator for every 19 full-time employees.

No one in authority (e.g., the Board) stepped in to question the need to increase the executive and managerial staff by 279% between 2007 and 2013. During the same period, the school’s enrollment increased by a scant eight students and the school’s credit hour enrollment increased by 6.6%. There is no obvious explanation for why an increase in enrollment of 8 students, or an11,500 hour increase in credit hour enrollment triggered the addition of 34 executive and/or management positions at the college. If anything, the increase in instruction required additional instructors, but LKCC increased its full-time instructional staff by just one person. That isn’t prioritizing students. That’s stuffing the payroll with a high-cost workforce whose work takes place outside the classroom.

Virtually flat enrollment and a modest credit hour increase of 6.6% doesn’t justify hiring nearly 3 dozen executives and managers. Yet, that is exactly what happened, and no one said anything about it.

Staff size must be tied to enrollment

Fast forward a decade, and the school’s finances are suffering under the weight of the added staff because the size of the instructional staff is not tied to enrollment. Enrollment at LKCC declined by more than 45%, and credit hour enrollment wilted to less than half of what it had been in 2013. LKCC’s full-time staff peaked at 366 people in 2019. Beginning in 2020, the size of the full-time staff began to shrink. In 2022, LKCC indicated that its full-time instructional staff was 124 and its non-instructional full-time staff was 202. That’s only 6 more full-time employees than it had in 2007, but LKCC’s enrollment was just 55% of what it was then.

LKCC makes the case for adopting a mathematical model for staffing size that considers the institution’s enrollment. It is absolute financial malpractice to tie the size of the instructional staff to the school’s enrollment but apply no similar restrictions to the non-instructional staff. Ultimately, student enrollment is a significant determinant of the school’s operating income. Pretending that enrollment has no impact on half to two-thirds of the staff is foolish.

Photo Credit: SilentMatt Psychedelic, Creative Commons By-SA 4.0