KCTCS cuts 500 faculty, staff positions

The Administration Building was open for tours during an opening ceremony for the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus at the former Eastern State Hospital on Newtown Pike in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 4, 2014.
The Administration Building was open for tours during an opening ceremony for the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus at the former Eastern State Hospital on Newtown Pike in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 4, 2014.

Facing a $26 million shortfall caused by declining enrollment and a decade of budget cuts from state government, Kentucky’s community college system has cut 506 positions, including 170 faculty and staff jobs that were occupied.

According to the Kentucky Community and Technical College’s central office, colleges have cut 191 faculty positions and 315 staff posts. Because many of the positions were vacant or were vacated through retirements, only 45 faculty and 125 staff were actually laid off.

KCTCS President Jay Box was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. But earlier this month, he warned of upcoming spending reductions because of a 4.5 percent cut in state support over the next two years. Those cuts come on top of $39 million in budget reductions from the state since 2008.

“As you know, the combination of declining enrollment, loss of tuition and years of state funding decreases have led us to this point,” Box said in a May 4 letter to the 16 KCTCS campuses. “Over the last year, KCTCS has tightened its belt to the point there are no notches left.”

Box said the revenue shortfall required “tough decisions,” including a 6.1 percent tuition increase next year.

“The proposed tuition increase, which must be approved by the KCTCS Board of Regents, is projected to generate $11.7 million dollars in revenue in 2016-17,” Box said. “However, due to fixed cost increases, a 4.5 percent state appropriation cut and no projected growth in enrollment, we are still short by more than $26 million dollars. All of this has led to staff reductions and program suspensions.”

Education officials are still waiting for the results of a court case challenging current-year cuts of 2 percent imposed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

KCTCS officials did not respond to questions about how many of the job cuts were made at the system’s central office in Versailles.

KCTCS’ total enrollment has dropped 28 percent since 2010, when the system hit a high of 58,577 students. Enrollment was 45,770 in fall 2015.

Other public universities in Kentucky are debating how to erase similar revenue shortages. In March, Morehead State University imposed a week-long unpaid furlough for faculty and staff. Eastern Kentucky University instituted a hiring freeze and is studying program cuts, as is Western Kentucky University. All eight public universities are expected to raise tuition when they finalize budgets in June.

At KCTCS, individual community colleges were allowed to make cuts themselves. At Maysville Community and Technical College, for example, 21 full-time staff employees were cut, with other employees taking up those responsibilities, said Pamela McGlone, the marketing and public relations director for the college. No faculty positions were cut.

At Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, layoffs have been avoided altogether because as many as 40 open positions have not been filled in the past five years, said President Augusta Julian. That erased about $2 million of a $6 million deficit.

“We did everything we could to avoid mass layoffs,” Julian said. “Our folks are terrific — they don’t like it but they understand.”

To cut costs, the school has ended programs, such as a dental lab and collision repair certificate. Another big change is that professors are expected to teach five classes a semester, and next year, they must teach five classes in one semester and six in the next.

Jake Gibbs, a BCTC history professor and Urban County Council member, said the cuts are affecting morale.

“This will make people less available for students, people are exhausted, and probably adjunct professors will be losing their jobs,” he said. “It’s not an ideal situation.”

Gordon Lester taught English at Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg for the past six years. He and three other faculty were told their contracts would not be renewed and they should not come to commencement to see their students graduate.

“In this part of the state, it creates a real economic hardship,” because jobs are so scarce, Lester said.

Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said community college enrollment has always been affected by the economy.

“Some of this is a reflection of an enrollment decline they’ve been experiencing as the economy has recovered, that’s fairly typical,” he said. “But what happened this year is just the most recent in a long line of constant erosion of public support for our institutions.”

Marcia Roth, chairwoman of the KCTCS Board of Regents, said other states have increased spending on higher education “because they understand the students who go to community college are the future economic engine of the state, and they invest in those students.

“And yet Kentucky, in my opinion, made the unfortunate decision to cut higher education.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford