Suggestions need solutions to work

Posted 4/22/21

The Northwest College Board of Trustees made a difficult decision Monday to cut 11 positions, six of which were faculty. Four other positions were at the day care center, which will be closed at the …

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Suggestions need solutions to work


The Northwest College Board of Trustees made a difficult decision Monday to cut 11 positions, six of which were faculty. Four other positions were at the day care center, which will be closed at the end of May. 

The college is faced with a $2.6 million shortfall, much of which was the result of sharp, recent cuts to state support. Combined with falling enrollments, the board needed to make adjustments. 

The budget reduction proposal first came before the board in January, and the trustees adopted all the proposed cuts except the reductions in force. There wasn’t a lot of hope the result would be any different when the final decision was made, but the trustees wanted to do more analysis and get further input from the public. So, they delayed the vote on the layoffs for three months. 

Many people in the community took the opportunity to comment on the proposed staffing reductions. Most of the comments explained how the cuts would hurt college departments, cause hardships in the community, undermine the quality of experience for students and potentially make it more difficult to recruit them. 

There’s value in communicating to the board how its decisions will play out. The problem is the cuts were never optional, and very few of the comments proposed any alternatives. The college can’t spend money it doesn’t have. So, a request to save one position necessitates a proposal to save money in other ways. Absent an alternative cost-saving proposal, an argument to save a position on the basis of the negative impacts that would result from cutting it presents no opportunity for the board to consider. 

One community member explained in a letter to the board that the closure of the day care center was going to be very hard on her family and requested the board “find it in their hearts” to keep it open. 

Day care options in Powell are truly scarce, and there’s no denying the closure of the facility will make it harder for parents who need day care. The trustees, many of whom are parents, can surely sympathize. But all the sympathy in the world cannot fund a service for which funds don’t exist. 

At Monday’s meeting, Trustee Carolyn Danko tried to explain how the latest round of cuts are just the latest and steepest the college has had to make over the last few years. They have made extensive cuts to classified staff, closed residence halls, trimmed amenities and increased fees and tuition. Where do they cut when they’ve cut everything else?

One instructor proposed in a letter to the editor that the college reduce salaries across all faculty. There’s a debate to be had on the merits of the proposed solution, but it was at least an attempt to find an alternative path forward. That’s commendable.

Some people have criticized the college’s recruiting efforts, arguing that if they improved their marketing, they could raise enrollment. In turn, revenues would go up and that would close the budget shortfalls. 

That too is offering a practical solution. However, institutions across the country and state are seeing declines in enrollment, so for NWC to buck the trend would be an anomaly. For the sake of argument, let’s say the college revamped its entire approach to recruiting and managed to produce a 3% annual growth in enrollment. 

Even at that rate, it would be a decade or more before the annual enrollment would generate the revenue needed to replace $2.6 million in lost state support. This is not to dismiss the need to reverse the enrollment declines or those who propose ways to do that. This is to say that addressing enrollment is a long-term solution — not one that will save jobs today. 

Since NWC is a public institution that spends taxpayer money, it’s important for the board to solicit public input before making decisions. However, that input must offer solutions in order to be useful. As the college moves forward in addressing its longer-term problem of enrollment — and it must — it would behoove us to keep that in mind.