Measures are being taken to increase enrollment, which should help budget.
By Wally Perez
A dip in enrollment in the fall semester caused a $4 million loss in the budget.
“Each student who enrolls generates what we call a contact hour,” Dr. Robert Vela, college president, said during an interview Jan. 22. “These contact hours have formula funding attached to them. Since there’s a two-year lag from the state, we have to develop our own budget model on how to allocate the budget year.”
The budget model depends on whether the college generated contact hours. If there’s a decline in enrollment, then there’s a reduction in the budget for that fiscal year.
That’s exactly what happened, and the college didn’t get the allocation that it’s used to, Vela said.
“When the economy is doing well, students work more and take less hours,” he said.
Vela said now the college is seeing an incline in enrollment, which he says is normal because it’s not unheard of for it to fluctuate year to year.
“There are some efficiencies that we’re looking at to ensure that we’re maximizing every effort,” Vela said. “If our average class size — which does impact our budget — is 25, we need to be sure that our classes are running at least 23, 24 or 25; not four or five.”
Traditionally, the Alamo Colleges have seen a slight decline in enrollment, but enrollment is starting to pick up, which may be because of low oil and gas prices; there is a lot to factor, Vela said.
He said although $4 million is enough to talk about, it isn’t a large hit to the overall budget for this college, which is about $65 million.
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re still financially healthy — we just have to be efficient in our practices to ensure we don’t compromise what we do for our students,” Vela said.
There are measures being taken to reduce the chances of it happening again.
One such measure is exposure and assuring that students, whether they be in middle school or high school, have the opportunity to attend this college in the future.
It’s no secret that this college is surrounded by neighborhoods that can average a household income of $12,000, Vela said.
“We’ve held focus groups with our students and a majority of them agreed that because they live in the surrounding neighborhood, they see this college as an ivory tower,” Vela said.
A new program is being assembled called Outreach and Recruitment, which will ensure that all schools that feed into this college are aware that attending is a viable option. The program is currently still in development.
“We want students to remember that this college has been there for them since the third grade,” Vela said. “We know often times that when we have underrepresented, undeserved communities, college may not even be in their vocabularies so we want to make sure that we are there for them.”
Vela said he is also focusing on the students already attending this college. Part of enrollment management is ensuring that they graduate or successfully transfer.
With the $4 million loss, Vela wanted to make sure students know it hasn’t impacted normal operations around the college.
Programs have not been cut; in fact, they have increased with federal and state grants, such as Title 5.
“If we’re ever going to cut programs or anything of that matter, we want to make sure students are well versed and understand what and why it’s happening,” Vela said.
He said the only possible cuts would affect some adjunct faculty.
When managing class sizes and filling them come into play, it may be necessary to combine two classes taught by adjuncts, which may result in a reduction in positions.
Vela said he wasn’t too worried about the loss.
He said this college is part of the Alamo Colleges and the board would never allow one college to take a major hit that compromises students, while another school in the district flourished.