Projections of flat revenue and declining enrollment has East Central College officials preparing for yet another year of budgetary challenges.
At this month’s board of trustees meeting, the board will vote on what college administrators are calling a “lean budget.” Trustees also will hear about plans going forward to remedy ECC’s expense and revenue issues.
“This budget year is a challenging one,” ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer told trustees at June board meeting. “In the coming year we’ll have to take a comprehensive look at the budget and we’ll need a large group on campus to work on that.”
Budget problems have been the theme of the past few years, stemming from state budget cuts that took a once financially comfortable ECC to a more fiscally stretched college.
ECC responded to those cuts with several changes, including a focus on bolstering dual enrollment and a raise in tuition last year. However, this year when a tuition raise was in question the administration said it wouldn’t be necessary.
A year later, the situation has grown worse, with enrollment being the main culprit this time around. Even with the state budget cuts restored, the college still finds itself in what Bauer said are tough times.
Bauer said the college will now need to take a hard look at its revenue and expenses and that, most likely, a task force or committee will be formed when the fall semester starts to examine the issue and eventually make recommendations.
“This is the year this will have to be done. Not just the review we always do, but a really comprehensive top-to-bottom look that will involve faculty and staff on campus,” he said.
Ebbs and flows in students’ interest in education have long been the bane of community colleges like ECC, surging in times when the economy is struggling and dwindling when the economy is performing.
In total, tuition and fees from enrollment make up roughly 37 percent of the college’s total revenue. And while there are a few months left before the fall semester begins, Bauer said the college plans to adjust its focus to not just recruitment, but also retention of current students.
Educating the Community
A big part of that process, Bauer said, will be educating the staff about the budget and why certain revenue and expenses exist. The importance is beyond reviewing the budget, he added.
“It’s not just reviewing the budget and making adjustments,” hesaid. “We also have a lot of work we need to do around campus on budget education and making sure all of our faculty and staff understand how the budget is structured and developed, where the revenue comes from and why the expenses are what they are.”
Finance and Administration Vice President Philip Pena said that comprehensive look will be important to the future of the college. He noted that some changes have already taken place, like revisiting the college’s course fee structure.
Changes like those, he said, and other adjustments to how the college operates and does business can help the college get on its feet, he said.
The timing of the budget review is coincidentally taking place while the college is developing a new strategic plan, Bauer noted. He said those processes go hand in hand and it is fortuitous that they are taking place at the same time.
Bauer said the “lean” budget will be presented to the board for approval at its next meeting Thursday, July 19.
“We have a preliminary budget that is lean right now,” he said. “It’s going to be a lean budget and I think everyone on campus understands the circumstances. But I also think everyone is ready to be involved in the process.”