Monday, January 26, 2009

Riders on the Storm

With the new year comes a new semester and a new day - every day a bit closer to the budget reality facing New York state. Cries of "it's going to get worse before it gets better" and "we have no idea how bad the numbers really are" are becoming deafening. New York’s financial difficulties are coupled with an economy in recession and unemployment at twenty year highs. As a result, people are showing up at our doors looking to retrain into high demand careers or to get a greater value on their tuition dollar - enrollment this spring is up 8.5% over the same time last year.

The Governor's proposed budget suggests broad and substantial cuts and community colleges are not immune. His original proposal was offered with the possibility of mid-year cuts as the deficit continued to grow exponentially. It's "pay me now or pay me later" and since no mid-year cuts have been announced, the projected budget cut for community colleges has grown from $230 to $270 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student - reducing our state funding from the current $2,675 to $2,405 per FTE. The potential impact of these cuts would reduce our 2009-10 budget by nearly $1 million.

The New York Community College Association of Presidents has created a white paper and posted it on an advocacy website for the State University of New York - http://www.sunyadvocates.org/index.php. While the white paper is necessary, as every other state supported organization is mounting their lobbying efforts, the overall message of simply "don't cut us, cut something else" will likely do more harm than good. Increasingly, the expectation is that every sector will share in the cuts to some extent.

The dire financial picture demands that we take a hard look at things and transform our college, region, state and country. The budget deficit and proposed reductions create a burning platform for change that requires a fundamental review of how things are done. At the College level, we will need explore all possible alternatives and make some very difficult decisions - decisions that have been taboo. I once worked for a great administrator who said we need to ride this storm to make us better than before - managing it by reducing pencils, pens and paper clips will only weaken us. I agree. We need to find new ways of operating more efficiently, reducing expenditures where we can and re-directing dollars where we must to address the growing needs of our community.

At the state level, this is the time to recognize the potential role of community colleges and maximize the resources, talent and flexibility found in our mission. Many organizations in Oneida County provide services that were typically provided by community colleges where I worked in other states - where community colleges were fortunate to have substantially better state-level funding than we have in New York. These local organizations rely on contracts or significant operating dollars from the state that create a confusing network of duplication for people just trying to increase their skills and get a job. Just as we must take a hard look at how things are done at MVCC, the State of New York must seize this opportunity to change the way dollars flow in this state to better serve our communities. If state funding for community colleges must be cut, redirecting other dollars from wasteful, duplicative spending streams to allow community colleges to realize their potential in this state will streamline government spending and better serve the taxpayers of New York. Just as people are looking to get a higher return on their tuition dollar by attending a community college, so should the State of New York seek to get a higher return on their state budget dollar by looking to community colleges as an integral part of a solution to an unprecedented budget problem.

You can share your thoughts on these matters with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.