KPC considers upcoming budget process

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Wednesday, January 14, 2015 10:42pm
  • News

While students at Kenai Peninsula College Kenai River campus return to classes this week, college administrators have started to evaluate next year’s budget as the state considers significant budget cuts.

KPC Director Gary Turner said with Gov. Bill Walker proposing somewhere between a 5 to 8 percent state operating budget reduction, he has had discussions with staff about what the impacts to the college could be.

“KPC is extremely fiscally conservative and responsible,” he said. “We think we will do OK, but how long will (the state deficit) last? My crystal ball is broken.”

KPC fiscal year 2013 budget was $16.6 million with a payroll of $11.1 million, according to its website. Despite tuition coming in from the 2,887 students enrolled, the state still picks up 60 percent of the cost, he said.

Alaska resident tuition rates for the 2014-15 year are $174 per credit for lower division courses and $210 for upper division courses. Graduate rates are $403 per credit.

The University of Alaska Board of Regents last November decided to not approve a tuition increase. While that was great news for students, tuition helps with operating costs and the college will have to take that into account, Turner said.

“We are in the planning process but the governor and the Legislature have the final say,” he said. “Until then we are shooting in the dark.”

Turner chairs a leadership team that meets monthly throughout the year to discuss important college matters. The team will meet Friday to discuss how the college can generate revenue and avoid certain costs. Administrators have run several financial scenarios based on the state’s deficit projections to get an idea of what their budget could look like. He said 73 percent of the college’s costs are in faculty and staff.

Turner said there is a button on the KPC website where employees can submit ideas anonymously for how the college could generate revenue. Walker has a similar option on the state website called, “voices for vision,” a budget survey that asks citizens from across the state their ideas on how to efficiently reduce spending.

“I think I came up with it first,” Turner said.

Starting Jan. 20, the Legislature will be busy putting together a state operating budget, but Congress is already discussing a proposal by President Barack Obama for tuition-free community college.

American’s College Promise is a proposal that aims to make two years of community college free for responsible students. According to a White House press release the proposal could save a full-time community college student an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.

KPC student government advisor Shauna Thornton said in theory she likes the idea of the bill because it would raise the bar for education.

“We need to be forward-thinking so we can prepare young people to be productive members of society,” she said. “Things are different than they are now. An associate’s degree is the new high school diploma.”

Thornton said while the bill would face a large hurdle from Congress before it would came before individual states, she said by investing in education and allowing more people to get the opportunity to go to college it would alleviate social problems and could save the country money in the long run.

Thornton, 51, said there is always something new to learn. She signed up for a graduate program in public administration and is taking classes online, which allows her to still work full time. She said people who are motivated to further their education but may not have the means to afford it, would benefit greatly from Obama’s program.

Students paid community colleges $16.7 billion in tuition and fees in 2012, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Turner said while the free community college is a great idea, it brings up a lot of questions of how the federal government would pay for it. If Congress approves it, the next question would be what the Alaska Legislature and governor would think with states expected to fund a quarter of the cost.

“We are in a fiscal crisis right now,” he said. “I don’t know if the state is willing to take that kind of step.”

Turner said Alaska doesn’t have community colleges. KPC is a small community campus merged with the University of Alaska-Anchorage. For the proposal to work the definition of community college would have to include small community campuses, he said.

Turner said if everything works out, the next challenge would be how a small college could handle a large influx of enrollment.

“We are operating at capacity in most of all our courses,” he said. “We are not getting more money in this climate to hire more faculty. The question is how do you handle that kind of influx?”

KPC student Derek Gipson, 22, said he didn’t think the government should offer free tuition for two years of college. Gipson, who is in his first quarter at KPC after moving to Alaska from Tennessee, said he already has a bachelor’s degree and is advancing his education to pursue an oilfield job.

“I’ve always had the philosophy of why ask the government to do stuff for you,” he said. “It’s like stealing from your neighbor. I would say if it’s important to you, you can find a way to pay for it yourself. I do agree that people in tough situations with no way to pay would benefit from it.”

 

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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