Financial pressure continues to mount at SUNY Erie Community College.
The proposed 2022-23 budget for the college includes a 3% tuition increase. He predicts that enrollment will continue to decline. And he warns of “a lot” of job cuts if more professors and administrators don’t take up a retirement incentive offered earlier this year.
The budget proposal also highlighted the need for reforms recommended by a consultant in April, including phasing out less popular degree programs and reducing duplicate operations and redundant staff across the three separate campuses. ECC.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, in a letter to county lawmakers submitting the $95.9 million budget for approval, said the ECC was in a “precarious financial position.” He warned the college had “an extra year of leeway” to make cost-cutting reforms or face dire consequences.
“After the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the college will have no more options and will be forced to make increasingly significant cuts to operations, programs and personnel,” Poloncarz wrote. “The actions taken over the next two academic years will determine whether or not SUNY Erie is a strong and vibrant part of our community.”
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The proposed budget and Poloncarz warning highlight many issues that have combined to put ECC on shaky ground in recent years.
They range from steep declines in enrollment exacerbated by the Covid pandemic without accompanying staff reductions to union contracts that prevent the ECC from hiring adjunct teaching staff who are paid less than full-time senior faculty.
Poloncarz also recommended that ECC scrap an enterprise resource planning system it purchased five years ago that turned out to be “an abject failure.”
The issues combine to create a projected deficit of $9 million for 2022-23 and more to come if ECC doesn’t “size up” its staff, operations and programs, ECC President David Balkin said Wednesday. in a letter to ECC staff.
The proposed budget is lower than the approved budget of $102.7 million from the previous year, but higher than ECC’s expenditures of $95.9 million for 2021-22, thanks to federal pandemic funds that have enabled ECC to avoid a deficit over the past two years. These pandemic funds are no longer available.
Over the past decade, full-time student enrollment at ECC has fallen 48% and is expected to drop from 7,441 to 7,333 this fall. The problem is shared by all community colleges in the state due to dwindling high school class sizes, a high density of competing institutions, and New York’s Excelsior program offering free tuition incentives. The Excelsior program eliminates a financial incentive for students to save money by attending a community college rather than a more expensive four-year public school.
ECC is seeking to increase tuition by 3%, or $75.50 per semester, and to increase its technology fee by $60 per semester.
“After holding the tuition line for many years, we believe this tuition increase is warranted and (it) is directly in line with tuition at other New State community colleges. York,” Poloncarz wrote.
The proposed budget assumes that 60 of the 144 eligible faculty and administrators will take advantage of a $2.5 million retirement incentive announced in April. But so far, only 23 people have signed up. In his letter to ECC staff, Balkin said it was only 25% of eligible faculty and 38% of eligible administrators.
“Even though we knew the retirement incentive wouldn’t be enough to entirely solve our staffing problem, we were hoping for a significantly higher turnout,” Balkin said.
Members of the ECC faculty and administrative unions, the Federation of ECC Professors and the Association of ECC Administrators, have until the end of June to register for the program. Layoffs affecting those positions will be announced in July, Balkin said.
The two unions representing the county’s civil service and labor personnel at the ECC – the American Federation of County and State Employees and the Civil Service Employees Association – have requested that retirement incentive funds not used by professors and administrators are offered to their members.
While the faculty and administrator unions are solely ECC staff, the CSEA and AFSCME also represent workers at the Erie County Medical Center and public library system. Balkin said these unions “work closely with our administration to identify potential positions for their relevant members with other county organizations.”
Balkin said he would announce layoffs affecting those workers by the end of June. He declined to estimate the total number of layoffs that may be needed, as it will depend on the salaries of specific employees who will be retiring.
A large part of ECC’s plan for the immediate future will be to implement the recommendations of a report by consultancy RPK Group, which was contracted to review ECC’s operations with funding from the John R Foundation. Oishei and other local foundations.
Reforms include disabling low-enrollment programs while enhancing and adding on-demand and online programs, pursuing more industry partnerships that fast-track students into high-paying, high-demand jobs in the hand of the region and by “continually reassessing” the college’s physical footprint. , Balkin said.
“While we would like all of our students across the county to be within easy driving distance of our face-to-face course offerings, financial realities preclude that possibility,” Balkin said. “SUNY Erie intends to always have a presence in the Southtowns area, but that presence must creatively evolve over time, as must our footprints at our northern and city locations.”
Balkin said there are no plans to phase out ECC’s South Campus in the foreseeable future. Earlier this year, ECC “disabled” six South Campus programs with minimal enrollment, but those courses will be “taught” to allow current students to graduate, he said.
ECC also plans to offer more short-term certification programs, advanced high school placement programs and industry co-ops, such as an automotive technology program taught by ECC instructors at the new Jaguar/Land Rover dealership in West Herr Auto Group in Amherst.
“Today, community colleges can be where the trump cards are to teach students the skills they need to succeed in high-paying jobs,” Balkin said. “We just need to figure out the best way to share assets to give ECC more visibility in our community.”
The Erie County Legislature Community Enrichment Committee reviews the ECC’s proposed budget from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the legislative chambers. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. in the rooms at 92 Franklin Street.