Low SBCC enrollment is expected to come at a price

PHIL JOSEPH, Channels staff

City College’s in-state student enrollment dropped about 7 percent this past year, forcing administrators to stabilize a declining budget.

If enrollment continues to decline, City College will lose about $4 million—from $66.5 to $62 million—in state funds 2016-2017 and possibly more in the future.

The funding goes to salaries, supplies, employee benefits, athletic programs and the many other services that City College provides.

“We are declining. And we’re going to continue to decline as long as we don’t do anything to turn it around,” said Joe Sullivan, City College’s vice president of business services. “And currently, we aren’t really doing anything to turn it around.”

City College’s budget is linked to enrollment. Enrollment has recently fallen because of rising housing costs in Santa Barbara, and an improving economy.

Substantial decreases of in-state enrollment results in a significant decrease in the following year’s state funding. The lack of fall and spring enrollment has given the upcoming summer session a new purpose.

A jump in summer enrollment could help decrease City College’s estimated $4 million loss.

As of now, City College doesn’t have a long-term plan to soften falling enrollment. The 2 percent increase that administrators would ideally like to hit is “not enough.”

The school’s enrollment peaked at a level that couldn’t be maintained in 2009 during its “#1 Community College in the Nation” campaign.

“We were too large and we exceeded our carrying capacity,” said Superintendent-President Lori Gaskin. “I’d like to see enrollment stabilize at an organic, sustainable level.”

A more sustainable level of enrollment will likely relieve some of the pressure on parking, classrooms, local neighborhoods and administrators.

An untreated decline will hurt in the long run.

The costs of healthcare packages, retirement plans and similar expenses will continue to rise as expected while sinking earnings, City College will have to find ways to reduce future costs.

The number of full-time faculty that the school is obligated to carry could drop by as many 12-14 employees, and reduce state funding.

“This is not meant to be doom and gloom, we’re adjusting and we just need to have a positive outlook; it’s not the sky is falling by any means,” said Gaskin.

City College’s Board of Trustees will use its roughly $33 million in savings to offset the cost of improving west campus facilities, the east campus student center and for other future projects.

Improvements to east and west campus will cost about $8 million more than the $11 million surplus City College is expected to have at the end of the year. The $8 million needed for these projects will come from the school’s savings.

The school’s balance gives the City College breathing room, but it isn’t infinite. The school plans to gradually reduce its size by leaving positions empty after faculty and staff retire.

“We’re concerned,” said Sullivan “but we’re not panicked.”

The College Planning Council is meeting Tuesday Feb. 16 to continue the discussion of the budget. The full impact of a declining budget will not be revealed until May when summer session enrollment becomes clear.