Cuts leave community college bleeding

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Kelly Tallo moved to Colorado in part because she hoped her parents could help while she earned a nursing degree to support her children. She’s attending classes at Pikes Peak Community College, but was stunned to recently discover there is a two-year waiting list to enter the nursing program.

“I might as well go somewhere else, back to Louisiana,” said Tallo, a 42-year-old single mother of two who lives in Monument. “I’m not getting any younger.”

Tallo’s dilemma is echoed by many other students at PPCC — too much demand and not enough teachers, staff or technology, the result of two years of back-to-back budget cuts by the state.

And in the meantime, hospitals and private medical practices are waiting for nurses. There is an 11 percent nursing shortage in the state today, a figure that is expected to grow to 22 percent over the next decade.

While the nursing program has the longest wait, the school’s culinary arts program has an 18-month waiting list.

The college went through a 10-percent budget cut this year and is anticipating a 28 percent cut in 2011. Altogether, that’s $5.8 million in cuts from its budget. Of that, $4.3 million will come from its budget of $51 million in fiscal 2011, which begins July 1.

To make up for the lost dollars, PPCC has raised tuition by 18 percent over the past two years.

Tuition and fees at the four-campus college are now $99.65 per credit hour for students who qualify for the college opportunity fund, aimed at low-income students. For everyone else, tuition is $191 a credit hour.

Needless to say, PPCC President Tony Kinkle isn’t happy.

“It’s one thing if you can’t afford Colorado College,” Kinkle said. “And it’s another if you can’t afford UCCS. But when you can’t afford community college? What’s your option then?”

Spreading the word

Campaigning to end the cuts, Kinkle is now turning to the business community in hopes it will help him lobby the legislature.

“They (business leaders) are the only ones with enough clout to stop this bleeding,” he said. “And it affects them — it really does. We have a waiting list for nursing school; we have a waiting list in culinary arts. And businesses are not going to have an educated, trained workforce if this continues.”

Kinkle has shared his concerns with Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce and the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. He considers it part of his responsibility to let the business community know about cuts to higher education budgets. The Colorado Division of Higher Education has a lobbying effort at the state capital as well.

“Do we want a robust work force?” Kinkle asked. “Do we want to attract business? Those mountains will only do so much to attract people — we have to train the workforce.”

Communities hoping to attract and retain businesses must be able to provide a trained and educated workforce, he said. Reacting to loss

Before the Great Recession, there was an unwritten rule for community college funding: 33 percent from the student; 67 percent from the state. In Colorado today, that rule is being flipped on its ear, with the state now covering about 45 percent of the college’s budget.

Kinkle, who has worked at community colleges for 25 years, said Colorado’s constitutional amendments tie the hands of the legislature.

“When you take into account the amendments like TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher, all they can cut is higher ed and transportation,” he said. “But it’s time to stop doing that. There has to be another way.”

Unlike Colorado, many states around the country dedicate certain tax revenue streams for higher education. But Colorado’s education spending comes from its general fund. In Maryland, conversely, property taxes help to pay for community college. In Arkansas, a local sales tax is set aside. In Minnesota, it’s a portion of the state income tax.

In his three years at PPCC, Kinkle has seen the student population grow from 10,000 to nearly 14,000, fueled largely by the down economy as those who have lost jobs returned to school.

But while more students mean more tuition dollars, it also means the college needs more of everything just as its state funding shrinks.

That means larger class sizes, longer waiting lists, vacant and reduced positions and more. The college has frozen salaries for two years and ended out-of-state travel as of November 2008.

Kinkle also reorganized the education services from five divisions to four, cutting a dean and an associate dean. He eliminated 12 other positions and implemented a hiring freeze on all vacant positions as well.

He also froze all unspent technology initiative money and limited facilities improvements.

“That can be a difficult thing in some areas,” Kinkle said. “Our nursing and allied health programs need small class sizes and hands-on experience. They’re expensive, as well — technology for them is expensive, and that need continues to grow.”

And not all the tuition money taken at PPCC stays with it.

“I have no problem with that; I’m a big believer in rural education,” Kinkle said. “But it means we have to send money back to the state every year.”

Situation worsening

The financial picture is expected to only become grimmer. Because the state anticipates lower revenues, it has planned cuts of more than $500 million in the overall budget during the next three years.

“Our hands are tied,” said Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs). “We know that we have to pay for higher education, but that’s the result of TABOR — draining the higher education budget.”

Morse said four-year colleges are in a better position. They receive only about 6 percent of the higher education budget, while community colleges receive upward of 47 percent.

The state budget for higher education is $651 million this year, and will be $555 million next year. The year after that could be even more serious.

“There could come a time we have to zero out that money,” Morse said. “For the CU system, they could go on, raise tuition. It might not be pretty, but they would make it. For community colleges, it’s unsustainable.”

Morse believes the long-term answer is to repeal TABOR. Resistance to that notion is expected to be high. In the short term, he is working on ways to try to transfer funds from four-year institutions to two-year colleges.

“I am trying to get these guys to work together,” he said. “They have to look at it as a complete system, not just a single institution. If there is a way — and I’m not sure that there is — we should look at it.”

Kinkle said he views the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs as a partner, and would not like to leave them in a financial struggle of their own. Of course, UCCS benefits from the partnership.

Of the 714 students who transferred to four-year colleges from PPCC in 2008, more than 460 went to UCCS. Only Front Range Community College in Denver had more transfers.

Kinkle believes the solution is for the state to funnel more students to community colleges before they move on to four-year institutions.

“It’s cheaper for them to take the lower-division courses required for almost any program at a community college,” Kinkle said. “California has a very successful program doing just that.”

A higher education commission is looking into the possibility.

In the meantime, Tallo and other students face more out-of-pocket costs and potentially longer waiting lists to get into the programs of their choice.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” she said. “I think they’ll consider grades for the prerequisites (when determining spots on the waiting list), so I’ll just work harder at keeping my grades high. Or maybe I’ll go ahead and get a four-year degree.”

But that will mean spending longer in school, delaying a career and incurring more student debt.

Kinkle doesn’t have high hopes.

“To put it clearly; it’s horrible. Awful,” he said. “And we’re preparing for it to get worse.”

Pikes Peak Community College budget cuts

  • No raises for staff and faculty
  • Eliminated a program assistant in the office of president
  • No out-of-state travel since November 2008
  • Reorganized the educational services division from five divisions to four, eliminating a dean and an associate dean
  • Eliminated coordinator of nursing clinical tests
  • Eliminated two positions in the facilities maintenance and operations department
  • Eliminated two administrative assistant positions in the enrollment services department
  • Eliminated an administrative assistant position in the testing department
  • Eliminated a faculty position in computer information systems
  • No professional development since November 2008
  • Froze all unspent technology initiative money
  • Limited facilities improvements to accreditation issues only
  • Granted fewer faculty releases
  • Eliminated the co-coordinator in the fire-science technology program
  • Reduced start-up costs for new campus co-located with The Classical Academy
  • Reduced nursing simulation lab coordinator to part-time position
  • Implemented a hiring freeze on all vacant positions not needed for accreditation since November 2008
  • Eliminated a police officer position
  • Eliminated a materials handler position
  • Eliminated a crisis counselor position