LBWCC president hopes budget isn’t cut

Published 9:30 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

LBWCC president Dr. Herb Riedel is keeping a watchful eye on the legislature as it begins to work on state budgets.

“I’m really concerned,” Riedel said Thursday afternoon, adding that he is hopeful the legislature will accept Gov. Bob Riley’s education budget, or at least the community college portion of it.

“We’ve got a copy of the governor’s proposed budget, so we know how it affects community colleges and LBW in particular,” he said. “If it’s approved, we would have a 6.5 percent cut next year.”

It’s a reduction LBWCC can live with, he said, because of cuts made this year in response to proration. In December, Gov. Riley announced a 12.5 percent rate of proration in the state’s education budget. That number was reduced with money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, with a net result of a 9 percent cut in funding for Alabama’s schools, or $799,000 for LBWCC.

“We’ve done a number of things,” Riedel said. “Our faculty are teaching larger classes and we’ve restricted class sizes.”

Some of the classes that traditionally have very low enrollments aren’t being offered this summer, he said. The college also has taken steps to reduce travel and operating expenses.

“We haven’t talked about lay-offs (resulting from) changes made in budget,” Riedel said. “But by eliminating small enrollment cases, we’ve trimmed $140,000 off budgeted amounts for part-time instruction. I haven’t expressed cuts in terms of employment, but we’ve reduced part-time instructors.”

Nationwide, he said, educational institutions depend upon part-time personnel to cover classes, yet those employees often are taken for granted.

“We depend on them and these classes are a source of their livelihood,” Riedel said.

The changes in rules governing class sizes also may affect some full-time personnel, he said.

“Some of our employees may want to teach full time in the summer and won’t be able to,” Riedel said. “This will be painful for some people.”

The college also is economizing through attrition, he said, adding there are several open positions which the college has opted not to fill.

At the same time, he said, the college is literally doing more with less. While the institution is dealing with significant funding cuts, it is approaching record high enrollment, with 1,630 students enrolled this spring. And Riedel said that trend will likely continue.

“On the workforce side, when unemployment is high, more people go to college,” he said. “The costs of universities are going up at the same time people have seen their savings for college decimated. People are afraid for their jobs. Families planning to send their students straight to a university are taking a second look at community colleges, where they can save room and board as well.

“We’re not only an economical choice, we’re a good choice for quality,” he said. “We don’t have any freshman classes with 600 students. Our tuition is roughly half. Students can take the exact same courses at fraction of the cost, and live at home.”

As the college deals with cuts, he said, the executive team is focusing on maintaining its core mission of academic transfer classes, workforce development and GED preparation. Riedel said he believes community colleges are key to economic recovery for the state, in preparing students for jobs anticipated in the future.

Yet further reductions in funding could affect access to education, he said, and the college could be forced to reduce the number of scholarships it provides.

“We have 250 institutional scholarships,” he said, adding that these are in addition to the scholarships awarded by the college’s foundation. “These are essentially the institution waiving tuition. These affect a significant number of our students.”

Depending upon what the legislature decides to do with the governor’s proposed budget, he said, the college could be forced to reduce the number of institutional scholarships. For some students, there’s not another source of funding.

“I’ve called all of our legislators to tell them that this is really a tough budget,” Riedel said. “We can live with (the 6.5 percent cuts) with minimal disruption. Any deeper cuts could be disastrous.”

He said the college is looking for information about grants in the federal stimulus package that would be appropriate for LBWCC.

“It’s really hard to get information, but we’re looking for grants we can apply for,” Riedel said. “We’re looking for funds for avionics and industrial maintenance programs. We have renovations that are much-needed in Opp that are energy efficiency enhancements.

In turn, we would save on our energy bill year after year.”

In talking with legislators who represent LBWCC’s service area — House Speaker Seth Hammett (D-Andalusia), Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D-Luverne), Rep. Charles Newton (D-Greenville), Rep. Terry Spicer (D-Elba) and Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) — Riedel said he has found support, but also concern about education funding for K-12.

“I’m concerned about K-12, too,” he said. “I just hope they won’t cut community colleges any more to fund it.”