Riverland won#039;t cut programs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 12, 2003

A probable cut in state funds will not translate into program cuts, Riverland Community College Interim President James Davis said.

"There will be no program cuts," Davis said. "We won't have new equipment in the programs; we won't have new books for the library. Things will be pretty slim around here in terms of support, but if we lose programs, it's hard to bring them back."

While Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vowed to protect K-12 education, which accounts for about 43 percent of the state's budget, higher education will not be shielded from the burden. A 9 percent cut has been proposed.

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Pawlenty's budget proposal, if enacted, would reduce state funds to Riverland by approximately $505,000 this year and $1.25 million next year.

On top of Pawlenty's cuts, Riverland also is dealing with a $54,000 loss this year due to a redistribution of funds by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). Davis said that the redistribution makes funds more proportionate between Minnesota schools. Enrollment increases have changed over the last two years, and the redistribution accounts for that.

Rather than cutting programs, Davis said that the college will use money previously set aside for program enhancement. He also is eliminating things such as work study, which will save $50,000.

Tuition hikes will probably not be a source of income for colleges in Minnesota. Pawlenty hopes to keep tuition increases below 15 percent.

Davis said that shouldn't be a problem. He expects increases next year to be in the 9 to 12 percent range.

Despite the loss of funds, a poor economy has created more business for the college. Applications this year are up 46 percent over last year.

"The worse the economy gets in terms of jobs, the more people go to community colleges," Davis said.

He said that this was because younger people want to save money by staying close to home and older people take advantage of scholarships and funds for retraining that remain available when jobs are not.

The increase in enrollment will not, however, ease the burden of the cuts in state funds. If enrollment goes up, new faculty will probably be needed. In that case, tuition revenues would simply cover the salaries of those new employees.

In tough economic times, Davis stressed the importance of technical jobs in the community colleges.

"The technical programs are the key to a quick economic recovery," Davis said. "So we wanted to make sure we kept those."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at :mailto:matt.merritt@austindailyherald.com