Tea Party philosophers say governments don’t have a deficit problem, they have a spending problem.
Our state does have a spending problem with community colleges, but it’s because we’re spending too little as a result of meeting budget deficits since 2008. Currently Washington’s spending per student for higher education has dropped to fifth lowest in the nation while tuition rates have risen to seventh highest in the nation.
WVC President Jim Richardson said WVC has cut clerical, administrative and faculty positions while the legislature has cut funding by 30 percent, leaving the budget essentially where it was. Meanwhile enrollments have increased 28 percent. That’s a remarkably admirable performance.
Trustees have increased WVC tuition 12 percent in each of the last two years and fear more increases would make college less accessible. The only other things I know that might have risen that fast are the salaries of college football coaches, corporate profits and student debt loads. Something’s wrong with this scenario.
The legislature has told WVC trustees to expect even less state support because the state supreme court has mandated increased funding for K12 basic education and voters don’t appear willing to raise taxes.
WVC trustees fear they are must cut spending for programs, and even eliminate programs. They’re not sure what criteria to use so they’ve been inviting the public to answer questions about what’s important, what can be done and what could be cut.
Last Friday Richardson and four trustees listened to eight people willing to answer those questions. There were four advisory committee members, employers, former students, a college dean, several faculty, and a public official.
They confirmed WVC programs are important. WVC’s Running Start for high school students cuts college costs. Basic education helps people escape from poverty and shame. WVC programs create a ‘cultural goodness’ for the community. Local access eases transitions to other colleges and careers, particularly for students in northern counties. Employee training strengthens economic development.
When questions turned to what can be done, voices grew frustrated. They want legislators to visit with them to know who they are serving. Voices wanted everyone to know how often businesses ask WVC to create more flexible programs such as a three-week Certified Nurse’s Assistant program. Voices want to remind legislators how teachers and staff meet the legislature’s unfunded mandates. such as continuing education, supplemented only by inadequate federal dollars.
The voices suggested ways to raise revenues. The Running Start program saves so much tuition, they recommended finding ways to market it and charge for it.
Free education from massive online open courses (MOOCs) should be utilized so students could cut the time required to get specific skills.
Then participants wrestled with what programs are not essential or important. People diverted those questions to examples of how non-responsive professional technical programs adapt to respond to industry changes such as nurses delivering more care through call centers rather than hospital settings and automotive programs adding technology for hybrid engines. Otherwise, programs don’t survive.
“It’s easy to make cuts in professional technical program that have no enrollments or job placements,” said Jim Richardson.
Other program cuts are not so easy. Trustee Chairman Jim Tiffany asked whether WVC should provide basic education when the legislature diverts funds from community colleges to K12 programs. But basic education at WVC is more than basic education in K12, providing programs such as ESL, GED, and developmental disabilities.
I heard one participant ask the unwritten question and trustees’ dilemma, “How do you make cuts? By dollars and cents only?”
Trustees are looking for examples of processes used to cut programs.
“We looked at a business model for program cuts, and it was a disaster,” said Phil Rasmussen, a trustee and a retired Alcoa executive.
As WVC officials work to balance revenues and expenses, we should let them know what programs should be saved. And we should let legislators know we could support tax increases to solve our community college’s “spending problem.”