Guest editorial: CNCC at crossroads

Colorado Northwestern Community College continues to thrive and survive in turbulent economic times. A look back at the past five years of college history helps put this turbulence in perspective.

CNCC transitioned from a local district college to a member of the Colorado Community College System in July 1999. As part of that transition, the majority of the college's funding shifted from local taxpayers to the state's general fund. This change in status, from a local district to a state system school, was an attempt to alleviate the volatility of funding tied to fluctuations in the local property tax base and to enable the college to access state capital funds to improve and upgrade facilities.

As a condition of its entrance into the system, CNCC was directed to bring its per-student expenditures in line with other rural community colleges in Colorado. At the time, state appropriations accounted for about 70 percent of the college budget. The remaining budget came from student tuition, local mill levies, enterprises operations, and federal funds. The Joint Budget Committee granted the college a five-year window to phase in budgets that accounted for a 42 percent reduction in state-appropriated funds. The plan for achieving this 42 percent reduction was to cut expenses and increase enrollment during the five-year timeline.

The economic downturn that the state has experienced, starting in 2000, has not allowed those expectations to be realized despite student enrollment growth of 35 percent at CNCC. In addition to the 42 percent budget reduction mandated as an entrance requirement into the state system, an additional 23 percent had to be reduced because of State of Colorado revenue shortfalls and the effects of TABOR and Amendment 23. Additionally, the capital construction fund for the state has basically become non-existent.

So what does all this mean to CNCC today and in the future? Lower state appropriations, combined with a change in the funding allocation formula in the spring of 2004, will reduced funding of CNCC by $1.35 million in fiscal year 2007. The reduction will be phased in during three years. This current year, we reduced our budget by $450,000. We must reduce an additional $900,000 during the next 18 months.

How does CNCC plan for that kind of reduction? We are doing a number of things.

First and foremost, we are approaching every discussion from the students' perspective. Every decision will be made with the focus on student success, thereby ensuring that we maintain quality learning environments for students, faculty, and staff.

We will focus on attracting more students who are drawn to the qualities of Northwestern Colorado and, when they are enrolled, ensure that their experiences meet their needs academically and personally. Doing so will help CNCC retain students so that they can complete their education with us.

Additionally, we are working with the CNCC Advisory Council, the Rangely Junior. College District Board of Trustees and the Moffat County Board of Control to gain their insights and perspectives.

We are looking at all our operations, collegewide, to determine where inefficiencies exist.

We are reviewing our organizational structure in an effort to identify duplications of service.

We are working with our faculty to ensure that we offer classes at the times when they have the highest enrollment potential. Lastly, we are updating our Strategic Plan.

The initial step to the Strategic Plan update was to survey the communities we serve by distributing community perception, business/industry, elected official's, educational provider's, faculty/staff and student surveys. We will analyze the results through January to determine whether further focus group meetings are necessary.

In February, the results will be shared with the public. Analysis of the results will help guide decisions and direction for the college for the next three years.

We also anticipate opening a dialogue with those businesses not already involved with the college.

CNCC is facing significant changes.

They will not come without some pain and consternation.

However, given the quality of our staff and the support of the communities we serve, we will come through this challenge an even stronger institution that better serves the educational needs of Northwestern Colorado.

I always welcome comments and am open to any ideas you may have.

Please feel free to contact me at 675-3201 or bob.rizzuto@cncc.edu.

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