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SPSCC looks for ways to avoid a budget shortfall

Trend toward lower enrollment, revenue

In an attempt to blunt an impending budget shortfall, South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) has offered employees a $25,000 incentive to leave their jobs. The college received just two applications by the January deadline, said College spokesperson Kelly Green.

If the college accepts those applications, it will save approximately $150,000 in salary and benefit costs. More than 300 full-time college employees were eligible for the offer. The two who applied for the incentive are both faculty members, said C.J. Dosch, president of the faculty union. He wasn’t surprised by the low number of takers. “The reality is that we have a young faculty.”

As part of the Voluntary Employee Separation Incentive agreement, those positions would be held open for a year, said Dosch. “After that we certainly will be pushing to get them filled.”

Following the trend at state community colleges, SPSCC enrollments have shrunk to about 4,000 students per quarter, a 24 percent decline over three years. A constellation of causes includes shifting demographics, a strong jobs market and options for online education highlighted by the Covid pandemic.

Regina Alcantara Aviles is a 19-year-old SPSCC student from Mexico. She said she hears from others her age that finances are a roadblock. Some say they are too busy to go to college.

As Student Senator for Diversity and Equity, Aviles hopes to help revitalize the campus. “The people you meet here are going to have an impact on your life,” she said. “I just want everyone to be treated fairly and have opportunities to experience amazing things.”

While the college is feeling the impact of falling tuition revenues, administrators are optimistic about avoiding a budget shortfall this year. Marketing efforts boosted Winter Quarter enrollments, said Green. And the college will dip into the last $1.5 million in federal funding made available to address pandemic losses.

Next year the college faces a deficit of $1-2 million. Layoffs could be on the table, said Green. “That would be one of the options we would consider.” So far, conversations about layoffs next year have been informal, said Dosch. “To date, there has been no discussion of laying off faculty,” he said. “If that were to happen the union would push back.”

To forestall more drastic measures, the college is holding open for now about $850,000 in unfilled positions. Salaries and benefits account for at least 85 percent of the college’s budget, so other options for savings are limited, said Green. The college has healthy reserves, but is reluctant to use what it considers emergency funds to cover operations.

Most immediately, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which represents 34 colleges statewide, is focused on convincing state legislators to fully fund proposed state employee wage increases, which will otherwise add to the college’s budget troubles.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal leaves 17 percent of the cost unfunded, said Green.

The governor’s proposal covers two years of cost of living increases, said Dosch. “Faculty are still well below regional averages.”

Margaret Thomas is a recently retired SPSCC librarian.

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