In response to upcoming statewide budget reductions, Peninsula College has cut its operating budget by $1.7 million.
Through the departure of 17 faculty and staff members, the suspension of the massage therapy program and the elimination of the fisheries program, the college reduced its budget by the amount anticipated to be finalized by Washington state legislators in late April.
“We tried to structure these cuts so we would not see any reduction in quality. I think we are going to see some reductions in access,” said President Thomas Keegan. “The bottom line on all of this is we have to cut $1.7 million. We have no choice.”
However, he added, the college will not be required to make further cuts if the proposed budget is instituted.
“If the governor’s budget holds, then we’re done,” Keegan said in reference to any additional cutbacks.
According to The Seattle Times, Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed a $600 million reduction in the budget of higher education over two years, with the possibility that cutback could jump to $780 million.
Keegan said the budget for the 2011-2013 biennium may not be finalized until near the beginning of May, at which point Peninsula College would have a more definite number to plan its operating budget.
“We might not have our exact allocation until May. I don’t think we will have more money,” Keegan said. “We built in some leeway. If we have further cuts, we don’t have a list of what things are next. We will reinstitute the process.”
Keegan said the main criteria to determine which programs to cut were high costs, particularly for educational equipment, and low enrollment, especially in the case of the fisheries department.
While the college is pledging to maintain a quality educational experience for students, Keegan acknowledged there may be fewer opportunities for those students.
“Quality is not going to suffer; access is going to,” Keegan said. “We have to make some cuts in access to educational programs.”
Keegan said that no one will be able to enroll in either of the programs, though continuing students can complete the requirements of the massage therapy program.
“We’re reducing access to students that will no longer be able to attend those two programs,” Keegan said.
By eliminating the fisheries program, the college will save $75,800 annually, and by suspending the massage therapy program, the college will save $124,000 annually, according to Mary O’Neill-Garrett, vice president of instruction.
Not included in those estimates is the initial cost of equipment or the money the college expects to save because updates to equipment no longer will be needed.
In addition to high operating costs and a low enrollment trend, the fisheries program was disbanded because the fisheries job market largely requires four-year degrees. “The job market in fisheries is depressed,” Keegan said. “At this point, the need is for bachelor’s degrees.”
Although the fisheries department has been eliminated, research in the field will continue through the college’s Center of Excellence and the program could be reinstated in the future.
“If we were to reintroduce fisheries, we would reassess industry needs. The primary industry need is for bachelor’s degrees,” Keegan said. “The process is we assess what the industry needs are, and we reassess the program. It could come back in a different form.”
Although not addressed specifically by the budget cutbacks, the Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Management program may be affected as two staff members were dismissed.
Vicki Delorey, director of the program, was forced to retire, and Lila Morris, program assistant, also was released from her duties.
Nevertheless, Keegan insists that the quality of the program will not change.
“We reassigned those duties,” Keegan said. “We don’t expect students to see any change in quality. We’re actually expanding the program by adding an online component. We don’t expect students to see any change in service.”
While the college is facing a substantial cut to its budget, it also is looking to fill two faculty positions, one in the chemistry department and one in the English department.
Keegan said the college has been looking to fill the chemistry opening for a long time. The English opening follows the recent retirement of two faculty members.
Fred Thompson retired in June 2010 and Carmen Germain retired in December 2010. Keegan said the impetus behind filling these two positions is part of the over-arching goal for the college.
“We have to look at the whole college and make sure we ensure quality in all departments at the college,” Keegan said.
The $1.7 million reduction in the college’s operating budget will not directly affect ongoing construction at the college because funds for operations are not appropriated through the same system as funds for capital building projects.
In spite of the budget cutbacks and possible changes in the educational experience at Peninsula College, Keegan is adamant that the college will not waver in its mission to provide a quality education to students.
“There’s no change in our mission. One of our decisions up front was we’d maintain the same student mix, the same program mix,” Keegan said. “There’s no philosophical or mission change indicated by those cuts.”