The 2013-14 state budget is packing a punch to many community colleges across North Carolina with its change in the way colleges’ full-time enrollment numbers are figured, a change which affects how state funds are allocated. Like many of its counterparts, Sampson Community College has taken a hit as a result of this change, but college officials say the hit could be harder and stress that they have taken pro-active steps to do what they can to soften the blow and to continue planning for the future.
In the state budget, the General Assembly changed the method for determining how colleges budget full-time enrollment (FTE), explained Virgina Lucas, vice president of finance at SCC. Prior to this change, community colleges’ budget FTE was calculated based on the higher of the prior year’s enrollment or the average of the prior three years. From now on, she noted, community colleges’ budget FTE will be calculated based on the higher of the prior year’s enrollment or the average of the prior two years.
This change in policy is significant because “funding based on FTE sets community colleges up differently than K-12 schools and universities. Community colleges are impacted more by the economy,” stressed SCC President Dr. Paul Hutchins. “When it’s not doing well, more people go back to the classroom; it’s really a boon for community colleges. But when the economy comes back and begins to do better, people tend to go back to work and it takes them away from the community college setting.”
Currently, the college’s curriculum enrollment reflects a slight decline consistent with the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) as a whole, noted Lucas, sharing that SCC’s FTE decreased from 1,940 FTE to 1,862 budget FTE from last year to this year, approximately a 4 percent decrease.
The General Assembly’s decision to change the enrollment formula from a three-year average to a two-year average “disproportionately hurt quite a few community colleges,” Hutchins said.
While Sampson Community College didn’t feel the pain of the change as acutely as some, it didn’t go unscathed. According to Lucas, $136,094 was cut from the college’s budget due to the change in policy.
For community colleges most impacted by this enrollment calculation change, legislators did “give out $4 million to help minimize the effects,” noted Hutchins, adding that SCC “didn’t meet the threshold.”
“Sampson Community College didn’t get any of that,” echoed Lucas. “They (legislators) had a formula that determined which colleges suffered the most losses and ours were not as great as some other community colleges.”
According to Lucas, the $4 million was allocated to colleges that were impacted (on a percentage basis) more than the system-wide average of 1.8 percent. Since Sampson Community College’s impact came to 1.7 percent on the General Assembly’s scale, lower than the system average of 1.8 percent, the college was deemed ineligible for a part of the $4 million that legislators set aside.
Lucas added that in addition to dealing with the change how enrollment is now calculated, community colleges are also facing a variety of other changes including ones in the Title IV federal student financial aid regulations which now place limits on students eligibility for Pell awards as well as the continually rising state tuition rates and registration fees and the elimination of the tuition waiver for senior citizens that took effect this fall.
In total, Lucas reported that Sampson Community College’s state budget allocations decreased by $193,902 from fiscal years 2012-2013 to 2013-2014.
However, the local community college has been anticipating these budget cuts for some time, noted Lucas, and has been working hard to plan accordingly. Some of that work has involved avoiding reoccurring expenses, making regular reviews of the college’s resources, focusing on what will most benefit students, and continually seeking out grant opportunities.
Additionally, “the community college system is planning to start studying ourselves and see if there are recommendations that we can make to the governor that would put us in a better situation when it comes to enrollment,” added Hutchins. “We’re interested in seeing if there are other ways to receive funding than based on the number of people we have sitting in seats.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.