Page 21 - BusinessWest December 7, 2020
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decline, said Salomon-Fernández, but the numbers are still down, and the long-term projections show they will continue trending downward for per- haps the balance of the decade, some- thing GCC and other schools have been trying to plan for.
These enrollment declines obvi- ously take a toll on these schools finan- cially, said those we spoke with, a toll that has been greatly acerbated by
the pandemic; Cook equated the 15% drop in enrollment from last year to
$3 million in lost revenues. State and federal assistance from the CARES Act and other relief efforts have helped, he said, but there are restrictions on those monies, and, overall, they certainly don’t offset the steep losses.
Meanwhile, other headwinds are blowing, he said. At STCC, for example, the school has a number of issues with its buildings, some of which are more than 150 years old, with costs totaling several million dollars.
In response, the institutions have been using every tool in the toolbox
to cope with the declines in revenue, including inducements to retire, not filling positions when people do retire or leave, reducing part-time personnel (and then full-time workers) if needed, creating efficiencies when possible, and cutting down on expenses wher- ever possible, including travel, utilities, and more.
In some cases, schools have had
to go further and cut programs, as
at STCC, which has eliminated sev- eral programs, including automo-
tive, cosmetology, civil engineering, and dental assisting, which together enrolled roughly 120 students. These cuts came down to simple mathemat- ics, said Cook, adding that, while some programs were popular and certainly needed within the community, like automotive, they are losing proposi- tions, budget-wise.
“By and large, with every program we offer, the tuition and fees do not cover the costs; no program really breaks even, especially anything that has a lab or a technical or clinical ele- ment to it; those are all losing endeav- ors,” he explained. “Which means there’s even more pressure when enrollment falls.”
Steep Grade
And, as noted, enrollment is pro- jected to keep falling for the foresee- able future, and for all of the reasons, many of them pandemic-related, men- tioned above — from individuals not able to attend college for financial or other reasons to people not wanting to learn remotely, which is all that com- munity colleges can offer right now, except for some lab programs. And these trends are piling up atop those falling birth rates and smaller high- school classes.
Overall, it’s far more than enough to offset any gains that might come from the economy declining and the jobless rate soaring, said Royal, noting
“As much as we try to encourage them to stick with their plan and help them, through myriad services, to persist, the numbers seem to indicate that they need to take a break. And that’s disproportionately unique to community colleges — we don’t see the same level of enrollment decline at state universities, at UMass, or at undergraduate private institutions.”
to higher education during a recession, in normal times, there is more predict- ability when it comes to economic cycles,” she explained. “We know that during a recession, jobs are limited, and you use the time to focus on your education; the market is going to turn, and when it does, you’ll have more cre- dentials and certificates to be competi- tive for a job.
“When you think of the condi-
tions we’re in now, there’s still so much uncertainty that people are feeling nervous about starting a new program when they just don’t have a sense for where the world is going to end up,” she went on. “They’re thinking, ‘what is
       that this downturn is unlike those that came before because of the pandemic and the wave of uncertainty that has
accompanied it.
“When we think about the condi-
tions that tend to drive more students
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