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FSCJ Enrollment Plunges 10 Percent This Year

FSCJ Deerwood Center exterior

Leaders at Florida State College at Jacksonville are bracing for tougher times in their next fiscal year in part because of a dramatic enrollment drop of 10 percent.

FSCJ must cut $7 million from its annual $130 million budget, which means 5.6 percent cuts affecting most departments, college officials said.

“This is the largest shortfall we’ve had in my four years here,” said Al Little, FSCJ’s vice president of business services. “We are working hard to prioritize cuts to where it does not affect students.”

FSCJ’s enrollment has fallen a total of 25 percent since 2012-13 from 22,695 to 17,046, according to a state enrollment estimate. The 10 percent decline was steeper than originally estimated and one of the biggest declines among Florida’s community colleges, state figures show.

“This 10 percent drop we’ve seen over the course of this year is larger than any of us anticipated or wanted,” said John Wall, FSCJ’s provost. “There’s no question, it’s a tough enrollment environment, period.”

Wall confirmed that five to seven faculty were told this week that their contracts would not be renewed for the coming school year. Earlier in an email to faculty, Wall estimated non-renewals might affect as many as 10 faculty.

Wall characterized the faculty non-renewals, which are similar to layoffs, as customary for an institution this size and not entirely due to budgetary issues. “It can have to do with their performance, how they fit in with what we’re trying to do with the organization,” he said.

FSCJ’s bargaining agreement with faculty requires the school to notify by April 30 any faculty member whose contract isn’t being renewed. Wall said five faculty in his academic department were notified and at least two working elsewhere were given similar notice.

Some felt the renewal notices did not give faculty time to prepare, and that they should happen later, after the college plots all of its budget cuts.

“Let’s be clear on one point: the administrative structure of this college made a conscious decision to let full-time faculty go. Full-time faculty who are the front-line connection to the students and who are the most direct connection for students,” wrote Jason Gibson, president-elect of the faculty’s union, in an email to Wall.

“The elimination of any employment is antithetical to what this college stands for and should be approached with a greater degree of reverence.”

FSCJ officials said there likely will be more cuts to non-faculty jobs. They are still developing next year’s budget, including trying to project revenues.

“I don’t think we see a scenario where there won’t be additional cuts,” said Jill Johnson, FSCJ spokeswoman.

Wall added that he does not expect mass layoffs. “We’re working on the budget right now; it’s very wet cement,” he said. “We’re reviewing the institution from top to bottom to determine what we’re going to do.”

Gibson said faculty should not have been the first cuts.

“In truth, the college could have begun its contraction on other levels, leaving the elimination of faculty as a last resort,” Gibson wrote to Wall. “You all could have approached the austerity measures on every front while acknowledging the likelihood of faculty non-renewal (truthfully, layoffs) as possible in 2019.”

This comes at a time when FSCJ has been converting from a campus-based organization into a college organized by schools and programs.

FSCJ eliminated 25 faculty positions and 46 non-faculty positions last year, Johnson said, but some of those were unfilled positions. FSCJ employs about 385 full-time faculty as well as many adjuncts, she said.

The faculty cuts affect a minority of full-time faculty who have annual contracts, which expire August 16. Most of FSCJ’s faculty have continuing contracts, which is similar to tenure, and will keep their jobs, Wall said.

Earlier this month, a financial committee and FSCJ officials discussed revenues, expenditures and FSCJ’s net position as of Feb. 28.

They projected that this year FSCJ will spend almost $133.9 million, which exceeds expected revenues of $130 million. Next year, projected expenditures of $136.2 million could exceed revenues of $129.2 million, leading to a need to plug a budget shortfall of more than $7 million.

FSCJ leaders rejected such budget-cutting strategies as going to a four-day work week, raising student service and activity fees, and eliminating athletics. Instead, the board told FSCJ vice presidents to find about 5.6 percent of cuts in various college operations and departments, Little said.

“We are well down the road of identifying how we will address the entire shortfall,” Little said. “We will be there.”

The board of trustees is expected to meet again on May 22 and to vote on a budget in June. The school’s fiscal year starts July 1.

FSCJ and many community colleges have been hit by lower enrollment ever since the national economy improved post-recession. It is a national pattern: as joblessness declines and people find work, fewer enroll in community college courses.

But FSCJ’s enrollment fell further and longer than most other Florida community colleges. FSCJ also has had difficulties in recent years with implementing a new software system, which has caused a variety of problems including enrollment and financial aid issues.

There likely are other reasons for the enrollment decline, Wall said, but it’s not clear what they are.

Meanwhile, interim FSCJ President Kevin Hyde recently told college officials to budget realistically, assuming a tough enrollment picture for next year, Wall said.

“Part of the charge, I would say, from President Hyde is ‘Don’t do this on a razor-thin margin and paint a scenario about how great things are going to be next year. Be true to what you see and the trends, and build a budget that’s realistic,’ ” Wall said.

“You’re not going to launch a budget year on the hopes and dreams that things are going to be better. Prepare for a tougher road and hopefully you over-perform against that.”