Skagit Valley College struggles with budget

Skagit Valley College freshman McKenna Yockey stops for a break in the courtyard near the Old Main building, Tuesday afternoon.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Skagit Valley College freshman McKenna Yockey stops for a break in the courtyard near the Old Main building, Tuesday afternoon.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Hundreds of students at Whidbey Island’s Skagit Valley College could be impacted this summer as officials grapple with “substantial” state budget cuts and mushrooming enrollment.

Last week, Skagit Valley College announced that it would reduce its budget by $2 million for the 2009-10 year. It’s main location is in Mount Vernon, but it also operates a large campus in Oak Harbor, and smaller outposts in Clinton and the San Juan Islands.

This comes as the Legislature is reconciling differences between the House and Senate budget proposals, which call for deep cuts to higher education. The plans will help fill the state’s roughly $9 billion deficit.

“Even though it’s extremely difficult, the college is trying to do its effort to help balance the budget,” Mick Donahue, vice president of the Whidbey Campus, said. “For everyone, regardless of private entity, public entity or state agency, these are real difficult economic times.”

Reductions have impacted 26 positions at the college, seven of which were already vacant. The cuts will be spread throughout the college’s two main campuses and three centers.

At the same time, spring admission rose by 15 percent, as more people are looking to community colleges for retraining in a tough job market.

“That’s a hefty number,” Donahue said. “When things are going well, you’ll see a 3 to 7 percent rise.”

Adding to the stampede is the growing number of high-school students signed up for dual enrollment, and those unable to afford either public or private universities.

Notices of non-renewal, layoff or reduction of hours were given to employees over the past two weeks in individual meetings with the president.

The Whidbey campus transferred three full-time faculty to Mount Vernon’s campus, which had to let go of some temporary positions. Two vacant positions, a library assistant and tutoring coordinator, will not be filled, Donahue said.

“We will also scale back on the amount of money we use to hire part-time staff,” Donahue said.

Other belt-tightening measures include cuts in equipment purchases, reconfigurations of program delivery, travel restrictions and ending some contracts with local agencies.

To restructure the college, more emphasis will be placed on distance learning online programs that can be accessed by students at any time and from any location.

The college is working to become more efficient; offering fewer classes and maximizing enrollment.

“Rather than perhaps have five English courses that aren’t completely full, we’ll have four. Hopefully, we’ll fill all of them and streamline our course offerings,” Donahue said.

While federal stimulus money could soften the blow, it is uncertain at this time how much community colleges will receive. Washington was approved for about $820 million in education block grants for local schools and public colleges, along with other grants and tax credits.

Donahue said the Whidbey Island campus recognizes there could be further reductions in the future, and that “we are keeping our employees in the loop as we go down the road.” State money accounts for roughly 75 percent of Skagit Valley College’s funding.

“The problem with this, like any other business, is that 85 percent of funding is for personnel. You have to cut back in the people arena. It’s happening all over the map,” Donahue said.

This summer, the Whidbey Campus is planning to reduce hours of operation and is considering reducing hours during the academic year.

Donahue said the reductions will take effect at the end of June, after the Legislature releases the final budget.

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