With enrollment numbers dropping once again, East Central College officials are growing more and more concerned about the college’s financial situation.
As of Monday, total credit hours had dropped by roughly 6 percent throughout the college, marking another year of dwindling enrollment figures.
That number is somewhat preliminary, ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer said Monday, as dual credit enrollment figures haven’t been released as of yet and final numbers are still being tallied.
Bauer noted that within the enrollment numbers are some silver linings. The college saw an increase of new ECC students of 12 percent, an uptick of students seeking transfer degrees of 9 percent and a boost to first-time degree-seeking students of roughly 7 percent.
Boosts in new student enrollment are always good news, he said, but the college needs to continue to work on retaining students as well.
“We’re doing a good job of getting new students in,” Bauer said. The disappointing news comes when we look at retention and keeping those students from semester to semester.”
ECC turned its focus to retention last year. Bauer cited it as one of the most important things the college could do to improve not only its enrollment rates, but also its accreditation status.
The college formed a Retention Commission solely to focus on the issue at the college.
“Retention is an area of focus and it’s going to continue to be an area of focus for us,” Bauer said. “That’s where we can leverage some enrollment, even from fall to spring. The more we do to retain those students semester to semester the better our numbers will be.”
Board of Trustees member Dr. Eric Park said it’s clear, based on dropping enrollment numbers and the budget passed last month, that the college is worse off than it was thought to be.
Earlier in the summer, college officials, when presenting the 2018-19 budget, described the coming fiscal year as challenging and announced the slimming down of the college’s spending plan.
Vice President of Finance and Administration Phil Pena, at the time, said the budget is especially difficult this year due to several factors, including falling enrollment numbers, higher utility costs, higher medical insurance costs, flat state aid and several others.
The tight budget introduced several cutbacks, including a tentative plan for no salary increases throughout the college and the evaluation of some positions at the college.
It’s nothing new to the college though, as budget problems have been the theme of the past few years, stemming from state budget cuts and enrollment difficulties.
Bolstering dual enrollment, raising tuition and, now, focusing on retention have been moves the college has made to offset those financial hardships last year.
This year, to look for possible solutions on the revenue and expenditure side, the college formed a committee over the summer made up of administrators, faculty, staff and board members to come up with solutions to the budget problem.
Its first meeting was Friday, Aug. 31, and was mostly informative. Bauer said the first step in coming up with a solution to the budgetary issues is making sure everyone involved was well-educated about where the college is right now.
The committee will continue to meet throughout the year, determining what steps the college can take to avoid further issues with finances.