As more and more students flock to Kansas community colleges in search of a less expensive way to new careers, they’re finding a system straining to accommodate the rapid growth.
More tuition revenue isn’t helping ease the pain of stagnant local property tax bases and dwindling state dollars, community college leaders say.
Kansas City Kansas Community College has cut just about as much as it can, said Brian Bode, vice president for student and administrative services, who used the often repeated “lots of the meat is gone, we’re getting to the bone” metaphor to describe the college’s situation.
There, tuition accounts for 22 percent of revenues, Wyandotte County property tax is 45 percent and state funds account for 15 percent, with the remainder coming from auxiliary funding sources like grants, he said.
KCKCC has freezes on hiring. Travel budgets for faculty and staff have been slashed, and budgets for supplies are lower. Tuition went up in 2010-11, but it’s still pretty affordable at around $65 per credit hour, including both tuition and fees, Bode said.
Students are seeing the impacts, too, he said — longer lines and lots of full classes, among other issues.
“We’re lucky. We had built some overflow parking,” Bode said. “It’s not overflow now.”
Justin Schmidt is a Johnson County Community College student from Eudora in his fifth semester at the school. The recession has brought a lot more students around, he said.
When the period of online enrollment begins, it’s important to have the class numbers all written down, he said. There’s not much time for browsing available sections.
“You’ve got to get in early so you can get the classes you want,” he said.
In one recent semester, too many people tried to log on at once at the beginning of the enrollment period and taxed the system, so he usually waits a couple of hours and does pretty well, he said.
Ethyn Gutierrez, a first-semester JCCC student from Olathe, said he didn’t have many problems enrolling, but he does have to plan for parking.
“I’m about 50 minutes early for class,” he said in the parking lot of the college. “If you have afternoon classes, you’re walking a mile.”
In other parts of the state, too, officials are dealing with new economic realities.
Tony Crouch, executive vice president of business services at Cowley County Community College and Area Technical School, said the school experienced 20 percent growth over last year, in terms of total credit hours taken.
But, he estimated more than 50 percent of the college’s expenses fluctuated depending on enrollment. And student tuition makes up only 30 percent of his budget.
The college has campuses in Arkansas City and Mulvane, he said. The Mulvane campus, which teaches general education courses, has been particularly hard-hit.
There, enrollments have been capped, and the school has about half the parking it needs.
“There’s only so many people that will physically fit in there,” he said. And, of course, any expansion will require additional resources.
He estimated the demand exists for 25 to 30 percent more students at the Mulvane campus.
While it’s challenging, Crouch said, it’s not like it’s the end of the world. The campus is moving online, where more than one-third of the students are enrolled today. And many classes are hybrids, meeting in person only one-third of the time and spending the rest of the time online. That eases space restrictions, he said.
Now in his 11th year in the job, Crouch said he felt the college was up to the challenge.
“One year you’ve got funds and you’re building a new building. There’s a challenge with that,” he said. “Then the next year, you’re moving people into the new building. There’s a challenge with that.”
This situation is just one more challenge, he said