Riverland facing cuts

Published 11:52 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

Riverland Community College may boast a 4.4 percent increase in enrollment from last spring, but it’s not immune to the crippling effects state budget cuts are having on Minnesota.

After learning they had to return $348,000 allocated from the state, RCC initiated plans to layoff about eight employees now through the end of May.

“We’ve been told to treat the budget reductions as permanent reductions,” said Terry Leas, president of RCC. He said all of the stimulus funding for education is dedicated to K-12; none is for higher education.

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“We really tried to avoid the layoffs by doing the non-personnel adjustments first,” Leas said. “Eighty-five percent of our budget is tied up in people — we’re in the people business.

“These layoffs … this isn’t about performance,” he said. “These are good people, valued workers. We’re upset that we’re losing them.” Employees will be leaving as early as Monday. The layoffs encompass all classifications of employees, both full- and part-time.

One part-time employee whose position has been eliminated as of this Monday is public relations specialist Amy Wangen, who notified local media Friday afternoon.

RCC is anticipating a loss of $1.2 million in state funding each of the next two years.

“We’re hoping there will be alternate funding sources, like grants or other programs,” Leas said as he checked off the positives.

“One of the ironies of this whole situation is as the economy goes down and unemployment rises, people do go to community colleges for training,” he said.

Some students who were considering attending universities are leaning toward community colleges like Riverland to save money.

“We think that’s a combination of people … dislocated workers starting to come through the system,” Leas said. “We also have been making a concerted effort to make a better job of marketing our services.”

RCC may indirectly benefit from the stimulus funding via Workforce Development, Inc. The non-profit, located on the Austin RCC campus — though not affiliated with the college — offers job search, career planning and training services. Employment and job-related funding is a large part of the stimulus package, and Workforce anticipates an influx of dollars for dislocated workers.

“We’re hoping their clients will be coming to Riverland as students,” Leas said.

Particular fields of training in high demand now are offered at RCC, like nursing and other health care careers, because of the number of baby boomers retiring. Others, like alternative energy, are new and in need of skilled workers.

“We anticipate we are going to have a really large interest in our wind turbine technology program we are starting in the fall,” Leas said.

RCC has also decreased energy use on its campuses to lower utility costs. A renovated welding shop on the Albert Lea campus will save the college about $60,000 per year.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can with non-personnel,” Leas said.