The College Cuts Back

In a late October meeting, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees approved a budget readjustment that will resolve a $1.25 million shortage caused by low registration numbers from students paying out-of-state tuition.

“While our incoming freshman class represents the most South Carolina students in school history and our total number of undergraduate students is stable, our current mix of resident and nonresident students presents some financial challenges,” said President Glenn McConnell in a statement after the meeting.

The shortfall, which represents almost half of one percent of the College’s $263 million budget for this year, was resolved mainly by eliminating positions that were already vacant and reducing the operating budgets suffer because of the cuts. Departments made cuts, Payment said, “with the understanding that we were trying to minimize the impact on programs and services to students.”

The reason for the $1.25 million shortfall stems from low enrollment numbers of students paying out-of-state tuition.

“We had about 100 fewer out-of-state students this year than expected,” Robertson said. “We still had the same amount of students attending the College, just a different mix of in-state and out-of-state students.”

Of the 10,373 undergraduate students attending the College, 34.7 percent are from out of state. This only represents a 1.5 percent drop from last fall, but having 100 of auxiliary services, including college stores and health services.

“Every single division of the College was asked to look internally to see if there were any funds that could more easily be cut,” said Susan Payment, Director of Student Life.

Despite the cuts, the amount is so small that services whose operating budgets were cut will barely notice the damage.

“We’re really unique in that we’re an auxiliary service,” said Jane Reno-Munro, Director of Health Services. “All the fees that are earmarked for student health come to us; we use all of those fees to provide services to the students. We don’t get any money from the College. We only get that fee to operate with.”

McConnell’s statement said cuts to services only represent a third of the adjustments. The other two thirds of the shortfall were covered by eliminating three faculty positions and 13 staff positions, all of which were already vacant.

For example, one staff position cut from the budget was the Assistant Director for Student Life Marketing and Media, which was vactaed in August.

“No one was fired, or terminated or laid off, but the decision was made to not fill the position at that time so that those funds could be absorbed,” Payment explained.

According to Mike Robertson, Senior Director of Media Relations for the College, students are not expected to fewer students paying out-of state tuition means a loss of $2.8 million in income.

Every year enrollment management in the Office of Admissions makes predictions about how many students will enroll and from where.

“That’s something enrollment management looks at every year as far as the number of out-of-state students they’d like to attract, and the number of international students they’d like to attract,” said Payment, “but first and foremost as a state institution, the College is here to serve students from South Carolina.”

What could have caused the drop in out-of state enrollment? In his statement to students, President McConnell asserted, “Let me be clear, the College – unlike many universities across the country – does not have an enrollment problem. In fact, our number of applications remains strong.” He did not mention any specific reasons why the number of out-of-state students failed to meet expectations.

Data from this year’s freshmen applications are not available from the College yet, but previous data going back to 2010 states the school typically receives between 11,000 and 11,500 applications. About 2,000 of those, or 25 percent, usually end up enrolling.

In years past, most out-of-state students have come from New Jersey, North Carolina, New York and Maryland, each state sending over 300 students every year. Students choose to migrate south (or not) for a variety of reasons.

Julie DiMarco, a graduate student from New Jersey, said, “I really mostly chose Charleston for the weather. I hate the cold up North. I also do water sports, so coming here was great for that.”

A study from Niche, a school ranking company, states that students in the United States prefer to stay close to home for college. More than half of high school graduates, 58 percent to be exact, choose to stay no farther than 100 miles from their hometown. In South Carolina, according to the study, only 18 percent of graduates decide to leave the state for college.

“Out-of-state enrollment is impacted across the board nationally because people of are being very cautious about the money they’re investing in their education, as they should be,” Payment said. “The target wasn’t necessarily hit for our out-of-state enrollment and it did impact our bottom line.”

Another important outcome of the Board of Trustees’ meeting was the new $50 security fee that will be charged to all students starting this spring semester. The new fee is not in response to the gap in the budget, but rather to concerns about security at the College and increased state and federal regulations for both personal safety and cyber security.

“Given that there are limited resources in the College’s budget to comply with these new regulations and to make the campus safety and security upgrades we need, it is essential to establish a security fee,” said President McConnell in an email to students following the board meeting.

Charging $50 a head to a population of 10,984 undergraduate and graduate students at the College will leave administration with an additional $550,000 in the Public Safety budget.

The money will primarily go toward adding and replacing security cameras around campus and installing a card access system for all buildings on campus. Robert Reese, Deputy Chief of Police and Public Safety, said the cost of these projects together will amount to around $2.3 million.

According to Reese, plans for new cameras have been in motion since July 2014, and money has already been set aside from an operating budget of $2.1 million. The first phase of Public Safety’s five year plan for security camera upgrades was completed in August. Public Safety is now in the process of selecting the cameras that need replacing and looking at bids from security camera vendors.

A lot of the cost of upgrading and replacing cameras will go into making sure the College’s old infrastructure will support the new technology.

“What the general public doesn’t know,” he said, “is that it’s not just cameras. It’s the wiring, the switches, the power.”

According to Reese and the Director of Physical Security Services, Larry Duncan, most of the security cameras on campus are six to 11 years old, when they should ideally be replaced every three to four years.

Reese says the bulk of the money will go toward installing a card access system in all buildings on campus, starting with a pilot program to test the system in residence halls on campus. Public Safety is currently working with Cougar Card Services to create a plan for the program.

Any money that remains after the access system is installed will go toward personnel.

Despite the additional security the fee will bring to campus, most students were not expecting to be charged more next semester.

“I think it’s silly because college tuition is too high anyway,” said freshman Aly Lain, a secondary English education major. “We pay so much in tuition already, I don’t understand why the money isn’t already there.”

Her sister, Emily Lain, a junior middle grade education major, feels differently. “We’re already taking out loans; what’s an extra $50? If that’s going to keep us safer, it’s a cost I’m willing to accept.”

“At the end of the day, you would like campus to be safe, and so would I,” Reese said. “How valuable is that safety to you?”

With the exception of the Feb. 10 bomb threat that turned out to be a hoax, the College has not experienced any major threats to security.However,theadministration’s actions show their commitment to preventive measures like the ones made possible by the fee.

“Although the College is safe, no campus in America is completely crime-free,” said President McConnell in his email to students about the fee. “Thus, we always have to be vigilant and proactive in upgrading and expanding our security services.”

“Campuses obviously don’t like to raise tuition and fees, but sometimes it’s impossible not to,” Payment said. “Unfortunately, depending upon enrollment, depending upon other related costs that are needed to keep the institution running as far as maintenance and upkeep and replacement, sometimes difficult choices have to be made.”

*This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Yard. 

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Following in the footsteps of many great authors before her, Carson chose to begin her writing career with journalism. She's been writing news stories since high school and now writes for CisternYard News. She came to Charleston as a transfer after a two-year sojourn in the icy mountains of Utah and never looked back. She keeps busy by reading, playing video games and working at the Children's Museum as an expert in cardboard swords, dragons and pirate adventures. After graduation she will be setting off on her own pirate adventure, conquering the globe in her trusty VW van.

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