Education

Midstate college cuts to be far-reaching

Students returning to college campuses this fall may expect more classes taught by part-time faculty and more aging equipment if proposed state budget cuts move forward.

Georgia's 35 colleges and universities have made plans to deal with 5 percent state budget reductions at the direction of University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis. Davis asked the colleges to prepare the plans after Gov. Sonny Perdue asked all state agencies to cut 3.5 percent from this year's budget in response to declining state tax revenues and a sluggish economy.

The colleges are being asked to plan for an extra 1.5 percentage points in cuts, so the Board of Regents will have flexibility in trimming budgets when it meets in August, a system spokesman has said.

A couple of midstate college presidents have said such cuts would hurt their ability to serve students.

"These cuts really hurt growing institutions like Macon State (College) because the demand for our services is there. We build into need — the educational needs of the area we serve — and a cut of this size will reduce our ability to serve the constituents who need us," Macon State College President David Bell said in a prepared statement. The college has been asked to slice $1.2 million from its budget.

The Telegraph obtained copies of the budget reduction plans for five Middle Georgia colleges — Macon State, Fort Valley State University, Georgia College & State University, Middle Georgia College and Gordon College — through an open records request. Common themes in the plans include eliminating vacant positions, increasing the use of part-time faculty, lengthening the replacement cycle for aging equipment and reducing library acquisitions budgets.

Doing so could affect the ability of colleges to expand and accommodate students, the availability of newer library resources and the ability to use newer technologies in the classroom, documents show.

COLLEGES' PLANS VARY

While similarities among the plans exist, each college took a different approach to dividing its cuts across campus.

Macon State's budget reduction plans shows a proposed 5 percent cut essentially across the board and the elimination of at least 10 vacant faculty positions. Across-the-board cuts would affect the college's ability to increase enrollment, according to the plans.

“A cut of $1.2 million is a highly significant cut for us. It will affect our ability to hire faculty, to provide support services to students and it will affect the size of our classes," Bell said.

Fort Valley State has plans that would reduce expenses for non-academic functions, emphasize energy savings, contract out certain support services and close the campus or individual buildings at certain times during the year to save on overhead costs, according to the college's report, which details $1.2 million in cuts and savings.

The plan notes that enacting some or all of these measures would threaten the university's reaffirmation of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, as well as harm FVSU's ability to grow at a time when it's experiencing record enrollment. Accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education also could be affected, although the plan does not specify how.

“The plan will speak for itself," Canter Brown, special counsel to the FVSU president, said in a prepared statement. "The fact is, though, that at this time we do not know if there will be a cut or how big that cut will be. We have sensed that each institution, if there are cuts, will be treated based upon individual circumstances. We just have to wait and see. In any event, we are planning so that no important university functions are curtailed."

Georgia College spread its cuts across the university, taking or redirecting small amounts from several areas, rather than large amounts from few, documents show.

Under the reduction plan, the Milledgeville-based university would trim just more than $1.8 million.

The college focused on improving efficiencies, attrition, delaying the filling of noncritical vacancies and the transferring of some budget line items to non-state dollars, President Dorothy Leland said in an e-mail to The Telegraph.

"We believe we have developed a package of possible actions which will minimize negative impacts on our students, faculty, staff, and — most importantly — our academic mission," she said.

In some instances, the changes possibly could result in increased fees or charges for services that previously were free, according to the plan.

"The current economic downturn will likely delay implementation of some of our programs and plans, and we will need to continue to work smart to ensure that the educational experiences we provide for our students remain of the highest quality," Leland said.

Another money-saving strategy would be to implement a new bike patrol around the campus perimeter, rather than the routine car patrols. A two-man bike patrol would save $60 per shift in fuel costs, or $10,500 a year, according to the college's budget reduction plan. Middle Georgia College proposes to reduce energy costs, reduce course offerings for history, business and aviation management and reduce operating expenses for campuswide departments as some of the ways it could make up its $970,686 share of the cuts.

The Cochran college also proposes to offer air traffic training to third parties to bring in more money and help offset equipment maintenance costs. Doing so would save $48,000, documents show.

Gordon College in Barnesville plans to come up with its $675,696 mostly by using money set aside in a reserve that was developed to cope with the economic downturn and eliminating vacant faculty positions. Reserve money would account for about $419,000 in state-funding cuts.

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