I recently completed my third years as Chair of the Board of Governors of New River Community and Technical College. I began \vith New River when the Community and Technical College was first formed by the Legislature. The same legislation that separated the CTCs from parent institutions also made the Community and Technical College Council System(CTCS) responsible for providing a recommended appropriation to the Governor for financial support of each of those nine institutions in the Governor’s budget.
I have always believed there is a funding inequity for the CTCs in West Virginia. I have been unable to find any formula that spells out how much each college will receive in State appropriations. There is no correlation between the number of students, number of locations, service area. or other ways funding might be calculated. West Virginia code declares the council’s responsibility to develop the budget, and the same code “recognizes the current funding model has not moved all state institutions equitably toward comparable peer funding levels.”
For more than two years I have discussed the funding problem with legislators; with the former and current Chancellor of the CTC system; members of the CTCS Council; and with the WV Board of Governors Chair Association. I have also written the Governor about this problem, and while he acknowledged my letter and forwarded it to “the appropriate person in his office,” no further response has been received. I have hesitated to be outspoken in the press, but in light of recent publicity about tuition increases, CTC cash reserves, and other issues related to higher education, I believe this is an appropriate time to add comments from a member of a governing board. These are my thoughts, not those of our entire board, although I believe most member of the Ne\v River CTC board will agree with my observations.
Community colleges are vital to West Virginia. We all work very hard to help prepare young people to continue their formal education. Just as important as new high school graduates are the non-traditional students who find themselves displaced from their known work. We help train coal miners who have seen job numbers plummet: we help the working mom who has decided to learn new skills to help support her family; we see men and women enrolling in programs that can mean an excellent income as a nurse, a welder, or a line service person for one of the utility or cable companies. Returning veterans enroll to learn or enhance a skill to return to the work force. Thousands of lives are changed by what community colleges offer.
As I review information available about the CTCs in West Virginia I see first-hand that New River is in perhaps the worst financial condition of the nine CTC institutions in West Virginia. One school has cash reserves equal to a full year of expenses, while New River has only about two weeks in cash reserves. There are reasons for the wide spreads in cash reserves. Until two years ago when our new main campus and administration facility in Beaver was completed. We were paying nearly $600,000 in annual rent for facilities throughout our service area. For many years New River has received nearly the lowest amount of support from the State of West Virginia, not allowing our school to save any funds for times when enrollment decreases. The wide ranging levels of support are astounding. Three of the CTCs have nearly the same FTE (full-time equivalent) number of students as of 2015, but the funding is nearly $1.6 million less for New River in the current budget. For example: Southern WVCTC with 1,245 students received $8.2 million; WV Northern CTC listed 1,228 students and received $7.0 million; and New River with 1.254 students was funded with only $5.6 million.
The Chancellor of the CTCS has made it abundantly clear that our Board of Governors bears the fiduciary responsibility for New River. We have been told that we have an unsustainable footprint of facilities. We are considering ways in which we can trim our facility square footage, however doing so will take time. I do not believe that our administration is less efficient than in other CTCs in West Virginia. I believe the failure of some formula for fair and equitable funding among the CTCs for many years has resulted in our inability to recover when enrollment declines as it has tor the entire CTC system.
We took drastic action to end the 2016 fiscal year with a balanced budget. New River reduced our classes to four days per week: reduced salaries of classified staff employees by 20%; some contracted faculty members volunteered to accept a 10% reduction in salary: and even our President accepted a voluntary 15% cut in his contracted salary. The President and faculty members who have contracts would certainly not be required to take salary reductions, but did so to show support of those employees who did not have a choice. Our board struggled with submitting our request of a 7% tuition increase to the CTCS for approval (any increase above 5% requires CTCS approval). At one point we were considering a 10% increase, however through careful budgeting we reduced that to 7% which was ultimately approved by the CTCS. Our concern was, and is, that tuition increases may result in students being unable to afford to enroll, and that we may experience even more financial woes due to lower student count.
New River has campuses in Princeton, Beaver, Summersville, Ghent, and Lewisburg. Our service area is the size of Connecticut, and we will keep working diligently to serve the students and families in those areas. My hope is that this letter may help create a groundswell of support for funding changes to community colleges. I believe in New River and want the people in our nine-county service area to know we will continue to educate and train everyone who enrolls. Increased enrollment is one way to improve financial stability, but I also believe it is the responsibility of the West Virginia Legislature to support the independent Community College system they created.
David L. Nalker
Past Chair – New River
Community and Technical College