College Budget Focuses on Student Access, Success
Enrollment growth, student recruitment, improved degree and certificate completion rates, and addition of three full-time faculty are the highlights of a 2017-18 spending plan for Columbia Gorge Community College following budget adoption by college directors June 13. Members of the college’s budget committee, drawn from the community at large, approved the proposed budget April 25.
Proposed general fund expenditures total $9.4 million, a decline of $323,500 over 2016-17 expenditures. The spending plan represents recovery from a half-million dollar shortfall last fiscal year.
“Last year this budget committee allowed the college to move forward with a $500,000 deficit on the promise that we could fill that hole,” the college’s president, Dr. Frank Toda, told budget committee members at the start of the meeting last month. “We made up that shortfall. This is a balanced budget: expenses equal revenue,” Toda added.
The new budget is predicated on “flat funding” in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed biennial budget of $556 million for all 17 of Oregon’s community colleges; Columbia Gorge Community College receives less than 2 percent of this, projected at $4 million in 2017-18. That’s about 45 percent of the college’s anticipated revenue, down from $4.1 million (47 percent) in 2016-17. Budget savings come through continuing belt-tightening in non-instructional departments, including institutional support and facilities.
Former Wasco County Judge Dan Ericksen chaired the budget committee meeting. College budget administrator Rick Leibowitz led the staff presentation.
The 2017-18 budget reflects the institution’s focus on rebuilding enrollment, which declined from 1,262 full-time students (FTE) in 2010-11 to a recent low point of 865 FTE in 2015-16. (The actual number of students attending college is much higher than the FTE calculation, which reflects a state formula for cost reimbursement. As of 2016-17 about 3,026 part-time and full-time students are enrolled in the college.)
Projected FTE for the current academic year suggests a beginning rebound to 880 FTE. The new budget is based on 924 FTE, a growth of 5 percent or about 44 full-time students.
Continued enrollment growth requires expanding the number of full-time instructors and boosting capacity to recruit and support new students. These goals are reflected in the budget.
“The good news is that we’ve already initiated a lot of this work,” Lori Ufford, the college’s chief academic officer, told the budget committee. “The budget before you is a watershed accomplishment. It’s about getting students into family-wage jobs.”
Only four of Oregon’s community colleges actively recruit students, noted Dr. Eric Studebaker, chief student services officer. He wants CGCC to join that small number; the recommended budget reflects this through a departmental reorganization calling for expanded student advising, high school outreach, marketing and development. Student Services led the creation of a cross-departmental Student Success Team, which is rolling out a communications plan and other recruitment measures. In addition, the college is now a test center for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), which awards credits for prior learning. For example, Hispanic students could be awarded up to 24 language credits by demonstrating command of the Spanish language through the CLEP.
Budget committee member Arthur Babitz, a former Hood River mayor who led that city’s recovery from a budget deficit during his tenure on council, challenged college staff on the enrollment projection. Babitz suggested the budget should either reflect proven enrollment increases or, if premised upon expanded enrollment, demonstrate sufficient reserves to make up for any shortfall.
In response, Leibowitz said a worst case scenario would be a 5 percent decline to the 2015-16 enrollment level, which would cause up to $400,000 in lost tuition and fees. But such a decline would also mean lower instructional costs, likely compensating for 75 percent of the tuition shortfall. “Even in a worst case scenario, the projected working capital carryover from this year would be sufficient contingency if we do not reach our enrollment goals,” Leibowitz said.
The budget strategy is not just to avoid such a shortfall, but to ensure that enrollment continues to rebound. The proposal establishes capacity for extensive student recruitment, including outreach to all of the region’s high schools. Studebaker noted that dual credit (where high school students simultaneously earn college credit) has significant potential to partner with local high schools. This is augmented by Oregon’s adoption of “sponsored” dual credit, which establishes a process through which high school instructors will be certified to offer college-level coursework at no loss of state reimbursement to either the participating high school or community college.
High school dual credit enrollment by itself could drive a third of the projected enrollment increase, Studebaker suggested. “I think five percent [enrollment growth] is low,” he added, saying the full impact of recruitment strategies likely won’t become evident until the fall of 2019.
Budget strategy emphasizes outreach to the region’s underserved populations, including the region’s large Hispanic population and people working to emerge from multi-generational poverty. The statewide Oregon Promise grant, which covers most of the tuition for qualifying students who have recently graduated high school or earned their GED, is helping rebuild enrollment, administrators contend. Legislative reauthorization of Oregon Promise is expected for 2017-18 in July.
Two other focal points of the new budget are Guided Pathways, which encourages degree and certification completion by establishing clear roadmaps for pertinent course electives, and professional development for college faculty and staff, with an emphasis upon cultural competency. This reflects the college’s recruitment focus on the region’s Hispanic and under-served populations.
These strategies are designed, in part, to improve the college’s degree and certificate completion rate, which currently stands at 25 percent.
The new budget includes a tuition increase of $2 per credit and a new $3 fee. On average, a full-time student will pay about $250 more in overall tuition and fees under the proposed budget. Net working capital carryover – operational funding that carries into the new fiscal year in July – is projected at $1.5 million. Budget contingency (an amount set aside for unanticipated emergencies) is 2.5 percent of the total budget, or about $231,000. Total revenues are budgeted at $8.9 million, assuming state support at $4 million, $3.5 million through tuition and fees, and $0.28 million in other revenues such as program income. The budget assumes no increase in property tax revenues, estimated at $1.131 million.
Operational expenses, which do not include debt service, contingency or special fund transfers, total $8.896 million, with $3.5 million dedicated to instruction, $1.1 million to academic support, $1.18 million to student services, $2 million to institutional support and $1 million to plant operations.
The budget committee approved three motions, approving the 2017-18 budget, and approving the permanent property tax and debt service levies.
The college levies a permanent tax rate 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation across its district, which encompasses most of Hood River and Wasco counties, and an additional debt service levy of $1.49 million resulting from 2004 voter passage of bond sales to finance campus improvements and acquisition in Hood River and The Dalles.