EL DORADO, KAN – Amidst enrollment decreases and the deep economical disruptions created by COVID-19, Butler Community College is facing difficult budget decisions as they prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year.
According to state forecasts, local tax revenues are expected to decrease by 15%, which equates to a $2 million decrease in funding. State funding for higher education institutions could decrease up to 10%, and enrollment and retention are areas of concern as the educational landscape remains full of unknowns due to the pandemic. Higher education institutions across the state will be impacted.
The potential revenue loss for the college has the Butler administration devising a multi-phased approach to cost savings; all while working to keep the focus on the core mission – accessible and affordable education for all. Access to quality higher education and in demand workforce training, student support services, as well as stewardship of tax dollars remain at the top of the priority list.
These circumstances have led the administration to make some painful budget decisions such as closing its premiere childcare facility for the foreseeable future. The EduCare Center is just one item on a list of cuts. Closed since March due to COVID-19, the childcare facility has operated in the red for years, costing $1.1 million in college operational funding over the last five years alone.
EduCare’s accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children requires very specific student to teacher ratios as well as defined educational levels for EduCare teachers. Annual tuition revenue received for children in attendance and food reimbursements doesn’t cover the personnel, meal costs, and non-personnel expenses.
The $250,000 needed to subsidize it again this year from the college’s operating budget was eliminated. College administration made the difficult decision to step away from the business of operating a daycare. Currently, of the 18 other community colleges in the state, there are 5 college daycares operating. Of those who used to operate daycares on campus, college administrators noted all were closed because they were not financially sustainable.
The center served as a learning lab for some Early Childhood Education students. However, it is not the only lab option. Students are placed in daycares throughout the area for practicum training and that will continue. Closure of EduCare will not mean the elimination of Butler’s associate degree program in Early Childhood Development. EduCare has been an auxiliary service provided by the college. In the fall of 2018, the administration discussed a possible partnership with an external entity, but it was determined a solvent plan for both partners wasn’t possible.
The bulk of EduCare expenses are in personnel. The center included 24 employees, seven full time and 17 part time. Depending on the severity of the revenue losses, the college could lose up to 50 full-time and part-time positions due to budget cuts. Furloughs of salaried personnel, not filling open positions, and reductions in non-essential travel are being discussed as part of the budget reduction plans. Departmental non-personnel expenditures, software and program support, training and professional development are being reduced. Needed facilities projects are also being put on hold.
"We know these cuts are impacting peoples’ lives and therefore, our communities," said Dr. Kim Krull, Butler president. "These are some of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my tenure as a college president. We are trying to be very prudent in our approach because of the far-reaching impact."
Fortunately, efforts to review inefficiencies were already underway and Butler is working to implement centralized purchasing across the college. According to Krull this operational change will help drive down supply costs and create another cost savings.
Also, the Andover 5000 Building remodel had been planned and budgeted for with funds over the past few budget cycles. This project, now near completion, was necessitated by the progress of Andover School district’s new construction for the Andover High School and the need for Butler to vacate the high school property it has leased since 1992. Therefore, the remodel has not interfered with the current budget circumstances.
While summer enrollment was projected to be down due to the pandemic and student uncertainty about finances, Butler’s summer enrollment numbers are equivalent to last summer with more than 16,000 credit hours enrolled. Administration is hopeful that fall numbers will also follow suit and show positive trends.