MARIETTA - Washington State Community College's Board of Trustees approved a 2012-13 budget Wednesday morning that anticipates a 5 percent drop in enrollment.
College President Bradley Ebersole said he'd like to see the school match this year's average enrollment of 2,200 students, but the budget was prepared conservatively. A contingency plan is also being developed if enrollment comes in below 2,100 - the 5 percent-less figure - a trend seen at other community colleges in the state.
"Despite the tight times (we need) to be sure that we protect the academic integrity of the college," Ebersole said.
During a special meeting early Wednesday morning, the board voted 5-0, with three members absent, to approve the approximately $14.5 million budget presented by Ebersole and Chief Financial Officer Jess Raines. The amount is less than this year's nearly $14.9 million budget but slightly higher than the fiscal year 2011 budget, Raines said.
Wednesday's session was held ahead of Monday's regular meeting so staff could begin inputting the new budget as soon as possible, Ebersole said.
Enrollment is expected to decline in the coming academic year due to the college's state-mandated switch from quarters to semesters, as well as improvement in the economy.
"When the economy gets stronger, people tend to want to go back to work rather than going to school," Ebersole said.
While the college is working to help students make the transition from quarters to semesters, some felt more comfortable finishing up their work under the quarter system. Ebersole said that may have been a factor in Washington State's most recent graduating class being its largest ever at 457 students.
Not granting a pay increase was a major step toward balancing the budget in the face of the anticipated enrollment decline.
"Deferring compensation change is a tough decision to make, but it was necessary to balance this budget," Raines said.
In addition, the college plans not to fill at least four of nine positions that are currently vacant or that will be vacated in the near future. Exactly which positions won't be filled has not been determined, Raines said, but he estimated a savings of more than $300,000 in salaries and benefits.
A reduction in the number of adjunct instructors is expected to save nearly $140,000. Raines said that is the result of the quarters-to-semesters transition, in which classes will last longer but fewer sections will be offered.
Reductions were also made across the board in travel, registration and lab and instructional supply expenses to save about $60,000. Raines noted members of individual departments proposed additional cuts that could add to that total.
The budget projects $100,000 in revenue from non-credit workforce training courses, but Raines said that based on current performance and interest, that number could increase.
The budget also takes into account increased tuition as the college converts to semesters. However, Raines noted the average student should only see about a $200-a-year increase since he or she would be taking classes for two semesters rather than three quarters.
Board Chairman Ken Schilling thanked Ebersole, Raines and the budget committee for their work.
"They've dug into this and re-dug and re-dug," he said. "They've got a lot of input from the grassroots and departments as they've built this."
Earlier this year, budget hearings were conducted in which department heads presented their goals for the year along with their budget requests.