Looking ahead, East Central College (ECC) President Jon Bauer sees challenging times for the college with the announcement of proposed state cuts.

Bauer said, conservatively, ECC could see a budget decrease of $328,000 if Gov. Eric Greitens’ recommended budget passes unchanged.

Greitens released his budget plan Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Nixa Early Learning Center. The newly elected governor followed through on cuts to higher education, while giving more money to K-12 education and public safety.

“In the last four years higher education has gotten a total increase of over $100 million,” he said. “I’m confident this year they can tighten their belts, just like the rest of us, and focus on excellence and get back to basics.”

Bauer, however, said community colleges have already tightened their belts.

“We’ll figure out how to address it (the cuts) but I think it’s important to realize we’re already very lean institutions. I can speak specifically for East Central, but this is true of all community colleges,” he said. “We have tightened our belts many times over. We run very lean ships.”

Bauer had hoped the higher education budget would be spared from further cuts. On Jan. 20 and 22, Bauer, testified before the state’s House of Representatives and Senate on behalf of ECC and community colleges, hoping to protect both from further cuts.

Bauer chairs Missouri’s Community College Association.

The ECC administration had only days ago learned of a mid-year withholding. Greitens announced a budget cut to higher education a week after he took office, which reduced the college’s budget for this year by $434,983.

ECC had budgeted a contingency fund for issues like cuts from the state, but that did not completely shield the college from the state’s mid-year withholdings. Bauer said Greiten’s latest budget announcement will call for further budgetary restrictions.

“This is a challenging time, there’s no question about that,” he said. “We’ve already had to manage with a withholding this year. Now, we’re looking at a reduction in our core budget for next year.”

Bauer said ECC will continue the restrictions imposed after Greitens initial mid-year withholdings into the next academic year, as well as further cutbacks. He said those restrictions included cutting supply budgets, putting off any repairs to the school’s facilities, technology and filling of open positions.

He said there would be exceptions for cases that are “mission critical” to the college’s success.

In October 2016, ECC’s board approved an increase in tuition. The college’s tuition will raise by $4 for in-district students, $6 for out-of-district students and $8 for out-of-state students in the 2017-2018 academic year. Bauer said he hopes this will help offset the difference in budget and expects tuition to raise statewide.

“What we have in place for the fall is reasonable and appropriate,” Bauer said. “Circumstances can change, but for now I think the tuition change is appropriate for this year.”

For now, Bauer said the college is focusing on enrollment. He said the best way ECC can combat budgetary issues is by luring more students toward the college.

Higher Education Budgets Slashed

Greitens’ recommended budget will impose cuts throughout the higher education community; four-year colleges and universities could see a decrease in budgeted funds by more than $43 million.

Community colleges could see a budget difference of approximately $8.8 million from the colleges’ appropriated funds in 2018. Greitens recommended community colleges receive $143 million in 2018. The colleges received $151 million fiscal year 2017.

“There is, however, going to be less money in the budget for professors, colleges and universities — less than they expected,” Greitens said. “I know college administrators and university presidents can work with us to save taxpayer money.”

The governor called Missouri’s budget “broken” at his press conference in Nixa. He said the state’s situation came as a result of politicians not making tough choices.

“Budgets are about tough decisions, and for too long our politicians have ducked the hard choices. We’re willing to make those hard choices,” Greitens said. Bauer said he and his staff will work tirelessly to improve ECC’s situation, by speaking out in Missouri’s House and Senate as Greitens’ proposed budget moves through the House and Senate.

“We’re going to make our case,” Bauer said. “I think community colleges have a particularly important (job) in having a skilled, expertly trained workforce.”