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Making Difficult Decisions Today for a Better Tomorrow

 

Frank Friedman

 

In the past two years, Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) has experienced four reductions in state appropriations totaling $2 million (or a 13 percent reduction). Simultaneously, headcount enrollment has increased by 725 (or 15 percent) and full-time enrollment by 373 (16 percent). The net result is that state funding per full-time enrollment has declined from $4,037 to $2,748 (a 32 percent decline), and the prospects for the next biennium look bleak as the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to cope with the economic recession.
 
The State Board for Community Colleges raised tuition to offset some of the loss of state funding. Tuition increased by approximately 7 percent each year, including a mid-year tuition increase that took effect in January 2010. The burden for paying for one’s education is clearly shifting from the state to the student.
 
Despite the revenue increase from tuition, PVCC has had to make difficult decisions regarding the budget. We are now serving nearly 1,000 additional students each semester with no more full-time faculty and staff than we had two years ago. Rather than detail the specific budget reductions we made, I will list the guidelines and principles that we followed in making these difficult decisions:
  • Be true to our access mission. Do everything we can to meet the demand for our classes and programs.
  • Increase the use of adjunct faculty in order to meet student demand.
  • Preserve the core function of teaching and learning. Make budget cuts in other areas first. Increase class sizes by no more than two to five students per section so that we continue to provide small classes, individualized attention, and active learning.
  • Refrain from across-the-board budget cuts. We made the difficult decisions regarding which services could be reduced or eliminated.
  • Don’t eat your seed corn. We reduced spending on professional development and travel, but we did not eliminate it. Faculty and staff need to continue to learn about new methods and new initiatives.
  • Avoid layoffs by taking advantage of retirements and resignations.
  • Make decisions based on a three-year budget scenario.
  • Continue to fund new initiatives by reducing or eliminating programs and services that have a limited influence on student success. Standing still is not an option.
  • Be open and honest with the faculty and staff. We held open hearings on the budget and further solicited input. Without sugar-coating the situation, I repeatedly expressed the belief that with strong fiscal management we would not only survive, but also thrive during these difficult times.

No one becomes a college president out of a desire to confront difficult fiscal times. We all want to grow our institutions, add necessary academic programs and student support services, and continue to innovate. My hope is that we will soon be spending our time doing those things again. But my belief is that we will best position ourselves for that day by making difficult fiscal decisions now.

 
Frank Friedman is president of Piedmont Virginia Community College.