Sandhills Braces for Budget Cuts
Sandhills Community College is bracing itself for at least $1 million in budget cuts next year.
SCC President John Dempsey says the state has advised presidents of the state’s community colleges to prepare for cuts of up to 10 percent in their budgets for the next academic year.
“When the president of the university [system] is talking about closing a campus, you know that things are serious,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey was referring to UNC System President Erskine Bowles’ address to the UNC Board of Governors Thursday, in which Bowles told members that if North Carolina’s economy does not improve, the system might have to close a campus in a worst-case scenario of budget cuts.
The state expects a $3.5 billion hole in its next budget. The loss includes $1.3 billion in expiring taxes and $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds.
“The money’s run out,” Dempsey said. “So we are facing a day of reckoning that is comparable to the day of reckoning faced by General Motors or a private company a couple of years ago.”
SCC typically receives $16 million to $17 million from the state each year. The college also receives federal funding through grants, but often those funds go toward specialized programs and do not supplement “core classes” that almost every student has to take.
Dempsey said the college could see funds to supplement higher student enrollment.
The college has seen its student population grow by 7 percent in 2009 and 2010 — growth that community colleges can expect when the economy is weak.
However, Dempsey was quick to say that an additional 10 percent cut, on top of significant budget cuts made over the last two years, would drastically affect how the college prepares to accommodate more students next year.
“All the low-hanging fruit has already been taken out of the college’s budget,” he said. “We are looking at some cuts that may have real consequences on our ability to perform our core mission, which is to offer classes to students.”
Dempsey said that he has internally imposed a freeze on hiring faculty members whose salaries would be paid with state funds. The freeze also prevents the college from hiring new teachers to replace faculty members who will retire this year.
Dempsey said not replacing those positions would be a simple way to make cuts without laying off faculty members, but he expressed concern that the lost positions could eliminate up to 10 course sections in core departments such as English and math.
A reduced availability of courses would increase class sizes and make it harder for students to get into the classes they need to take to graduate.
Dempsey stressed that cutting faculty positions will be the last option considered in the cost-cutting process.
“Teachers are the lifeblood of the college,” he said. “I will do anything and everything in my power to make sure that their jobs are not jeopardized by this.”
Dempsey was hesitant to say where the cuts will come from, but he did say he is confident that the college will be able to weather the storm.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “That’s not to say that we haven’t faced challenges before or that we haven’t come through them. I am sure that we will come through this one, but it will not be an easy task.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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