Monday, January 24, 2011


Let's Play...What Would You Cut?

Arizona and Texas have apparently decided that community colleges have way too much money. They're taking different approaches to solving the “problem.” In Arizona, they're proposing a fifty percent across-the-board cut in state aid. In Texas, they're combining a smaller-but-still-substantial across the board cut with actually closing four campuses.

Let's say that you're a chief financial officer at a community college. You've been told that next year's state allocation will be half of this year's, and the political tea leaves suggest that the direction after that will continue downward. Since the state allocation is already, say, half of your budget, this amounts to about a 25 percent cut.

What would you cut?

To get a sense of just how bad this is, you could reduce every salary at the college by 25 percent, and still not make up the gap. (That's because labor isn't the only cost.) Alternately, you could lay off 25 percent of the employees and still not make up the gap.

The 'squishy' things would be the first to go. That means travel, professional development, and food for college functions. This adds up to well under 1 percent.

Obviously, any new full-time hiring for non-unique positions is out of the question. Normal attrition, unreplaced on the staff side and adjuncted-out on the faculty side, might get you another percentage or two.

You'd take an axe to the library acquisition budget, the software budget, and the technology upgrade budget. Depending on how ambitious you got on the software/tech side, you might gain something here.

You'd raise tuition and fees, to the extent that you could. I'd be surprised to see this gain you much more than maybe five percentage points, assuming the most extreme case.

You'd call a halt to all non-emergency building maintenance. Construction projects that use college operating money would stop. (Projects based on separate bond issues might continue, oddly enough.)

You'd stop all pay raises, and maybe impose furloughs. This could net you a few points overall. Now, maybe you're at about ten to twelve points total. Where do you get the rest?



Program discontinuations.

Larger class sizes, both minimum and maximum.

Admittedly, I'm making several assumptions. I'm assuming that many of the low-hanging fruit for raising money – renting out unused classroom space for conferences, running profitable noncredit offerings – have already been done; they're part of the baseline. I'm skipping over severance packages for the laid off. I'm also assuming flat energy costs, flat health insurance costs (ha!), flat legal costs (ha!), and no other significant exogenous shocks. (In my neck of the woods, this year's snow removal budget is taking a severe hit. I'm guessing that's not an issue in Arizona.)

So even with several rosy assumptions, a significant tuition hike, and some unsustainable parsimony in physical plant, you're stuck with layoffs.

You could draw from reserves (or “rainy day funds”), assuming your college has any. But most cc's have only a month or two of their operating budgets in reserve. Worse, once they're gone, they're gone. In practice, you'd probably have to use reserves to pay for severance packages. A reserve draw could make sense in the context of “teaching out” the last semester of a dying program, but barring a political sea change, using a reserve draw more globally would simply prolong the inevitable.

I play out this thought exercise to illustrate a basic point: the choices administrators make are not always the choices they (we) would like to make. This is the fallacy in the oft-heard line that “budgets reflect priorities.” They also reflect constraints. When external funding shocks are severe and unremitting -- this year’s cut reflects the fourth year in a row -- and certain costs are either fixed or simply uncontrollable, your room to maneuver is much smaller than many people seem to imagine.

That’s not to say that the choices are entirely dictated or automatic, of course. But I’m constantly amazed at just how little my personal preferences -- or those of my colleagues -- actually matter. When resources are relatively flush, it’s possible to have significant agency. But when cuts pile on top of other cuts, there are only so many choices you can make. Blaming those who have to make the choices doesn’t help.

I would cut the community college lobbyists who are obviously not doing their job.
I would cut the school. Seriously, 50% with no guarantee of improvement? I would organize a systemwide shutdown and see if that's what is really wanted.
Cut all the lobbyists and maybe the pork level of government would decrease to the point where we would have the funds to support education fully. As one of the victims of Perry's indiscriminate ax-wielding (not to mention general poor governance), I have to wonder at the viability of non-academic transfer programs and athletics. It may be that technical education becomes relegated to the for-profits and the community college becomes less community and more college. Athletic programs at community colleges have never made sense to me, and they make even less sense now. I have heard administrators talk about using Bookstore profits to cover Athletic's losses, so that is an obvious target.
If I understand past comments correctly, right now it is cheaper to hire competent adjuncts to teach by the course than to hire conventional full-time faculty to do the same amount of instruction. Presumably doing so incurs some loss of quality; people who feel underpaid are unlikely to push hard and capable people tend to have options and exit a system they consider exploitive.

That said, if cuts have to be made, is there anything preventing a college from adjuncting out all its teaching? Such an institution might have a very few full-time faculty members for continuity and curriculum design, perhaps at the department-head level, but all other instruction would be paid for by the course. Quality would drop, sure, but cuts are cuts. Could it work?
@Johan-Why does using adjuncts automatically mean a drop in quality? I've had both traditional FT faculty and adjuncts through my BS and MS degrees. I didn't perceive a difference in the quality of my education. At an individual level, sure you'll have some that aren't up to par. But to disparage all adjuncts? My father is an adjunct teaching religion and philosophy. He works his butt off for his students. Just saying...
@Anonymous @ 6:36:

If you gave me a hand spade and told me to dig a big hole, I'd work my butt off too. But I'd work much more efficiently if you gave me a big shovel. By analogy, how much more effective would even the most hard-working and dedicated adjunct be if he/she was given a fixed office, predictability in scheduling, a living wage with benefits, etc.? The point isn't that adjuncts aren't good at their jobs, the point is that they're even better when they're given the resources they need, including stability.
Sounds like making these cuts is a difficult and thankless job for administrators. I'm not sure I agree that "budgets reflect priorities" is untrue, though. Maybe the community college budget doesn't reflect the priorities of students, faculty or administrators, but it seems to me that cuts were clearly intended by the governors.
How sad that we've gotten to a place where the safetynet education system is being eviscerated.
In Texas many of the soft cuts were made years ago and continue. Over the past few years schools have had to remit part of their budgets to the state.
Two-year state colleges, unlike community colleges, have no local tax base and get hit especially hard.
In Arizona, as I understand it, CCs are mostly funded by property taxes...and have the ability to raise property taxes. Like K-12 schools in most states. So a 50% cut in state aid isn't as much as it sounds, and it's certainly not the equivalent of the school's budget being cut by 50%.

And, as mentioned, CCs do have the ability to make up most of what they would lose by increasing property taxes and/or raising tuition.

I assume the situation in TX is different.
That said, if cuts have to be made, is there anything preventing a college from adjuncting out all its teaching?

I really think that this would basically turn colleges into gussied up tutoring centres. Think about it: teachers with no job security, little pay and no specific loyalty to an institution. Sounds like a for-profit tutoring institution if you ask me. Drops in quality are just one piece of the pie. If "profs" aren't around for office hours, or have any non-instructional interest in being at a school, then what do students gain other than transmission of information? School community would basically disappear overnight. As well, if you start taking away full-time work opportunities for adjuncts, why would the good ones stay? Even the most dedicated, passionate teacher wouldn't take a >$20K paycheck, including unpaid service, indefinitely with no benefits or job security.
The only answer seems to be to go semi-private. Charge continuing education-style fees for credit-bearing courses that would normally be supported by tuition. Keep all the fee money and use it to pay faculty salaries. Use your state allocation to pay staff and utilities.
I suspect raising tuition will be the thing to make up most of the gap. The UC system is getting 500 million cut from its total budget, or about 15% (as far as I can tell) of what it gets from the state. There was a time state residents paid very little and now they pay tuition comparable to private colleges.

When I compare my local university (maybe 9-10k a year just for tuition and fees, not including parking/gas/books/cost of living) to my local community college ($960 a year if you took a full load) I can kind of see why politicians would want to cut community colleges. I think it's one of those middle class biases where they are being "primed" to how much tuition students "typically" pay and not realizing the niche that community colleges support. But I suspect that's the way this is going, four year institutions become more and more out of reach of the middle class and community college becomes completely out of reach of anyone below lower middle class in standard of living.
New to your blog, and I am hooked.

My prediction: replace all retirees with yet more adjuncts. Then sell admission tickets to the Marx Museum in Rhineland where spectators can see him roll over in his grave.

Then re-negotiate faculty benefits and up their portion of contributions. Lower the health care benefits too.

Yes, furloughs are a very good idea. From now on, "summers off" really means "summers off."

I'd also suggest really cracking-down on that photocopier usage even more. Install tasers.
Seriously, figure out where the legislators send their kids, and close those campuses.
Seriously, figure out where the legislators send their kids, and close those campuses. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts they send their kids to private schools.

Maybe the lack of educational access will cause people to be willing to rethink artificially low property and corporate taxes. (insert wild laughter here)
I would like to cut Texas.
"Seriously, figure out where the legislators send their kids, and close those campuses."

The most common occupation in my state's legislator is teacher, significantly outnumbering lawyers. We currently have three professors (out of 150 legislators); as recently as five years ago we had five.

The actual problem is that there is no money. 10% unemployment means lower tax revenue *and* higher unemployment insurance payouts (for which my state is already borrowing money from the federal government).

Medicaid - the biggest item in most state's budgets - is harder hit in these times because many people lose their healthcare as they become unemployed.

Meanwhile, voters are tired of property tax increases and will vote out anyone suggesting one (not that the middle of a recession is the best time for a tax increase anyway).

So there's not a lot that will happen legislatively until the economy recovers. It's not that legislators don't understand the problem (education is the second largest budget item); it's that they really can't do anything meaningful about it.
Time to start billing the high schools for doing their work, or for scaling back the remediation efforts?
I'd hate to inject facts into this discussion, but - as PeterW observed - Arizona CCs get very little from the state government.

I looked up the Maricopa system budget and only 45 M$ of their 650 M$ budget comes from the state. They can accommodate a 50% cut from the state with a 10% increase in tuition and a 2% increase in property taxes that is permitted by the Constitution but not implemented by their Board.

They could also take it out of their fund balance, but (as DD surmised) they only have a 5% budget cushion in that pot. It looks like athletics makes up only a small fraction of the cut. I suppose they could also raise there "out of area" tuition since the state is not supporting that.

Did the legislature target AZ CCs because they already get so little from the state?
To Johan and others asking whether it's feasible to adjunct out most of our courses: in our region, accreditation requires us to have a certain full-time to part-time ratio. The ratio depends on the program. In many areas, we're already at the limit. In others where we'd like to hire more adjuncts, there aren't enough qualified people. Nursing is the obvious example, but so is machining. Ditto chemistry.

Also, having adjuncted my buns off in one of the evergreen disciplines, I look back and see that I wasn't as effective as I'd have liked to be. I was teaching several different courses at two or three schools and shared office space with several others. I didn't have the time or resources to be more than pretty good, no matter how much I cared.
In Arizona, they can just rely on the funding cuts to the state mental health system and the bill in the legislature to permit concealed weapons on public college campuses and let students like Jared make the cuts. Who needs Cactus State community college layoffs when you've got crazy kids with Glocks?
I guess what I'm saying is that I'd be very public about the whole thing. "This is too much money gone for us to continue to do what we've been doing. We don't know what kind of signal we're getting here. Are we being told that we should educate that many fewer students?"
I'm an adjunct, and I can teach a 5/4/5 load and make a little over 20K at one institution. It would be nice if I could teach more at the same college, which has several campuses. Let's say I could teach 7 classes a semester. I'd still only be on campus far less than 40 hrs a week, so I'm not sure why they're worried about the class-action lawsuit or whatever. I know there's a question of reduced quality, but the full-timers are teaching as many as 8 because of the enrollment and budget cutbacks. I think in the long run for an adjunct, if you're given the opportunity to make some kind of living, the the teaching results will be better than from those who teach less but can't afford decent clothes to wear to class.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?