The shape of what looks to be a treacherous budgetary year was outlined Tuesday evening by Fort Lewis College President Dene Kay Thomas to faculty and staff members.
FLC’s Budget Committee, examining a long-term trend in declining enrollment and anemic increases in state funding for higher education, on Dec. 5 began a budget exercise to prepare for cuts that might be required for the next academic year. The committee asked college officials to examine their budgets with the possibility of cutting up to $4.5 million, about 8 percent of the college’s budget.
“We want to make decisions early to maintain our strategic and financial flexibility,” Thomas said during her 2018 State of the College address in the Student Union Ballroom. “This will allow us to prioritize. If we need only 4 percent, we can prioritize.”
The main focus, Thomas said, is to determine how best “to protect the academic mission of the college.”
She emphasized cuts may not be required depending on a host of factors that still could come in better than anticipated. The big budgetary variables are:
The state of the economy, which will determine available state tax revenue.The eventual state funding for higher education to be determined by the Colorado General Assembly and Gov. John Hickenlooper.The eventual tuition rate, the parameters of which are also up to the state.“Hang in there. We’re family. We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to be stronger,” Thomas told about 80 faculty and staff members.
Becky Clausen, associate professor and chairwoman of the Sociology and Human Service Department, said the austere budget outlook led her department to explore creative cost trims.
“I think they are not exaggerating,” she said about the budget.
“But crisis brings change. I think some exciting new things are being explored. And within our department, we are looking at new ways of doing things and cooperating with other departments.”
Faculty and staff members also heard a review of a voluntary employment-separation incentive plan issued in spring 2017. The deadline for acceptance of the offer has not yet been set, and most likely will be set around mid-February.
Three separate plans are offered, one to faculty and two separate plans to staff members based on their classification in the state personnel system.
For faculty members, the college will pay 25 percent of base pay for those with six to nine years of service, 50 percent of annual pay for those with 10 to 14 years of service, and 100 percent of annual pay for those with 15 or more years of service.
Thomas, who is retiring at the end of the academic year, also summarized efforts to stem or even boost declining enrollment.
Enrollment for the fall semester came in at 3,356 –239 students shy of the previous year. Fall 2016 enrollment was 3,595, which at that time was the lowest enrollment in more than a decade.
During the recession in 2009, fall enrollment was 3,685.
Thomas described a host of aggressive marketing programs to reach students who expressed interest in FLC and following up with them and their families and also with efforts to reach other potential students whose applications currently remain incomplete.
She also emphasized the importance of increasing the number of students who are accepted and confirm their acceptance. In fall 2013, students who confirmed acceptance was at 39.17 percent, but in fall 2017, that rate had dropped to 19.75 percent.
“If you’re a confirmed student, we need to be your best friend,” she said.
Gary Gianniny, chairman and professor of geosciences, said he came away impressed with some initiatives being pursued.
He added, “Trying to read the tea leaves about how to stem the enrollment decline is more difficult.”