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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Colleges Study Ways to Save

March 03, 2009

By Sarah A. Reid - The Fayetteville Observer

Staff photo by Octavio Jones
Craig Raines, a senior at Fayetteville State University, does research at the Charles Chesnutt Library. Because of budget cutbacks, FSU has shortened the hours that the library is open. Staff photo by Octavio Jones

Leaders of public colleges in Fayetteville and Pembroke say they may lay off staff, slash programs and consolidate classes if the state requires deep budget cuts in the next fiscal year.

State supported community colleges and universities in the area estimate they will have cut between 5 percent and 7 percent of their budgets by June 30, the end of this fiscal year.

Those state-mandated cuts have forced the colleges to limit or freeze hiring, dramatically decrease travel budgets and curtail spending on nonessentials.

So far, few students have noticed the changes, college officials say, but some of the cuts are bound to affect them.

In the spring semester, Fayetteville State University cut the library’s late-night hours after a position was not filled, said Robert Botley, FSU’s vice chancellor for business and finance.

Broderick Jones, a junior studying business administration, said he used to study from the afternoon until midnight in a quiet corner of the library.

He tried to study in his room, but an Xbox and other distractions beckoned him away from his book, he said. Jones said his grade point average has dropped from 2.7 to 2.4.

“You can’t study nowhere besides the library,” he said from a desk in the reference section. “That’s how I feel.”

Dr. Larry Keen, president of Fayetteville Technical Community College, said this summer’s schedule will be light. The college will consolidate summer classes and cut total offerings by about 60 percent.

“The classes will probably be larger, and they will not be available over a wide variety of time slots,” he said.

Keen hopes the consolidations will prevent the college from having to slash programs. An internal review of all programs and building use is expected to be completed this spring.

Keen said he does not want to cut faculty salaries, which are already below the national average. He also doesn’t want to cut health care programs, technology programs or customized training for specific businesses.

But he may cut the campus’ operating hours to four days a week this summer. The campus is now open six days a week.

“When the economy goes south, typically the community college is where people come back,” he said. “That puts additional demands on us because at a time when we have reduced resources, we have increased demand. That is always tricky, working that.”

Keen and Brent Michaels, the school’s spokesman, expect to award 25 percent more scholarships next year to help laid-off workers retool their skills. This year, the college paid out $85,000 in 114 scholarships.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke cut its out-of-state scholarships by $100,000 this school year to help balance the budget, Chancellor Allen C. Meadors said.

It also took $48,000 from the graduation fund, slashed $560,000 from equipment purchases and pulled $300,000 from the marketing budget.

“If we can’t market, people don’t even know we exist,” Meadors said about his small, rural school.

Meadors and other leaders of public colleges will not know what their budget will be for the next school year until legislators hammer out the state budget this summer.

If the cuts hit 7 percent, UNCP will eliminate about 46 jobs, Meadors said. Roughly 20 of those positions are now vacant.

In April, UNCP will start working on its fall semester schedule. If officials are wrong on their budget estimates, classes may be consolidated or cut midsemester to save money, Meadors said.

In January, UNCP and FSU received approval to increase tuition next year — UNCP by 3.6 percent and FSU by 4.4 percent. Because UNC system schools are heavily subsidized by the state, that increase will barely be noticeable compared with the millions most college officials expect will be cut from their budgets next year.

Methodist University, a private school, is also ratcheting back spending to be conservative, President M. Elton Hendricks said.

In January, Hendricks said, he asked his vice presidents to cut from 2 percent to 3 percent from their budgets.

Methodist’s enrollment is about 2,200 students, up 25 from last year, Hendricks said. The majority of Methodist’s $45 million budget is funded by tuition, Hendricks said.

The college is in the process of consolidating classes, but that initiative started before the economy soured, Hendricks said. The school’s dean is investigating whether classes can be taught once or twice a year instead of every semester.

In the next year, the school will be constructing a building to expand its physician assistant program, Hendricks said. Groundbreaking for a new art building is expected this year, and another building is expected to be turned into a locker room for the football team.

“Right now, our applications are up, our deposits are up and our campus visits are up,” Hendricks said. “All of the indicators are positive. However, we know ... students are interested and are applying at Methodist; we don’t know whether the economy will impede their ability to enroll here.”

Staff writer Sarah A. Reid can be reached at reids@fayobserver.com, or 323-4848 ext. 280.