SCC Fundraising Helps Offset Cuts
Like other educational institutions across North Carolina, Sandhills Community College expects to see less funding from the state next year.
However, SCC President John Dempsey is confident that the college has the resources that will continue to help the college "go from good to great" in its service to students.
The Council for Aid to Education recently ranked SCC ninth out of the country's 1,200 community colleges for the 2009-2010 year in the Voluntary Support of Education survey, which assesses private fundraising among higher institutions.
"For a small community college, we are by far the most successful fundraising community college in America," he said.
Simultaneously, SCC expects to see 10 to 12 percent cuts from the state for the 2011-2012 year, which will result in an actual loss of funding between $1 million and $1.5 million.
Dempsey has been preparing for the cuts since last fall, when the state instructed college presidents to anticipate cuts of at least 10 percent in the state budget.
"I'm preparing for the $1.5 million and hoping for the $1 million," he said.
Dempsey said the college plans to cut $1 million by reducing its payroll through attrition and retiring faculty.
The college has also internally imposed a hiring freeze for any positions that are paid for with state funds.
"Unfortunately, the impact will be felt most in the faculty," he said.
Dempsey stressed that he does not intend to cut any current faculty positions and that reductions will only be made by not filling positions left vacant at the end of the 2010-2011 year.
However, the loss of vacant positions could affect course availability next fall for some departments, depending on where the positions are lost.
"That's how it really hurts us," Dempsey said.
While the college prepares to lose those positions, SCC is also bracing for more students coming in the doors, which could yield larger classes with fewer professors to teach them. Last fall, SCC saw a 7 percent increase in student enrollment.
Dempsey said community colleges typically see increased enrollment when the economy is weaker, and he expects to see enrollment eventually slow down as the economy continues to improve.
"But at the moment, we have more students projected for summer enrollment than we had last year," he said.
Dempsey went on to say that cuts would affect how the college accommodates more students. He added that this year's cuts would affect classrooms at all levels of N.C. education.
"For people to say that these cuts will not affect what goes on in the classroom, that's simply nonsense," he said. "Of course it will affect what goes on in the classroom, and people who are cutting our budgets need to accept responsibility for that."
Dempsey would not say which departments will likely be affected by the lost positions, but he did say that he and his staff are making arrangements to deal with the change.
"We know that this is going to hurt some departments more than others," he said. "And we are prepared to deal with that when it arises."
The remaining $500,000 would be cut by reducing staff stipend incentives, which would save $300,000, and by reducing operational costs, such as equipment and supply purchases, as well as travel expenses, saving $200,000.
Though SCC is bracing itself for these cuts, the college finds itself on "much firmer footing" than its sister community colleges thanks to private fundraising, according to Rick Smith, dean of institutional advancement at SCC.
"We probably have more private resources available than other community colleges in the state," Smith said. "That's due to one thing and one thing only - the community."
In 2010, the Sandhills Community College Foundation raised roughly $3.1 million in private donations for the fiscal year. Over the past 15 years, SCC has ranked in the top 20 nationally in private fundraising among community colleges thanks to consistent giving.
The foundation currently boasts a $20 million endowment, which helps SCC provide private scholarships and purchase equipment that the college otherwise could not afford with state funding alone.
Smith said the endowment provides additional funding that helps SCC maintain its position as a strong institution of higher learning for all students, even in an atmosphere of budget cuts.
"We're going to be in good shape as far as our students go next year and in other areas as well," he said. "[The endowment] won't solve all our problems and take care of every need, but it certainly softens the blow and enables us to continue the standards that we think are important. We are very blessed."
The foundation expects to grant $400,000 in scholarships next year - a $100,000 increase from last year - in addition to scholarships funded by the SCC Guarantor program, which will provide between $150,000 and $180,000.
The Guarantor program allows SCC to ensure that all students coming to Sandhills will have the opportunity to receive a quality education, regardless of their financial standing.
"We've made a commitment that no student will have to leave Sandhills because he or she can't afford a college education," Smith said.
'What It Represents'
Though the endowment does provide considerable support for the college, Dempsey prefers to preserve that funding as a resource for private financial aid, instead of using the funds to fill gaps left in the SCC budget from reduced state funding.
"I think it's the state's responsibility to provide the fundamentals of instruction," he said. "To ask our donors to subsidize that is not fair."
Smith agrees with Dempsey's sentiments and says private funding helps bolster budget gaps by supporting specific programs at SCC, such as nursing and landscaping, which have their own endowments.
"They will be in better shape than, perhaps, many of our sister colleges," he said.
Smith said he realizes there will be a greater need for private funds next year with increased enrollment and the loss of state and federal funding, but he is confident that SCC will be able to weather the storm.
"Donors continue to be generous," he said. "We have new scholarships that have been created in the last year, and the market has recovered for those scholarships that are part of the endowment."
He knows the community supports the value of a quality education at SCC.
"Students come first," Smith said. "Fortunately, the community understands that, and they've responded in a very positive way."
Smith says it's a "cool thing" that SCC continues to rank at the top nationally for the private support it receives, but he says the number is just an indicator of the college's strong relationship with the community.
"We're proud of it, but it's really not about the number," he said. "It's about what it represents."
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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