Nearly a year ago, when I was editor-in-chief of the Montage, newspaper, I met with Carla Chance, vice chancellor for finance and business services for the STLCC district to discuss the possible outcomes should there be large budget cuts from the state.
Chance pulled out a large white binder. In it, there were several scenarios the administration was preparing for in case of a large cut in the state's budget for higher education. Although always careful not to predict the future, Chance said she was hopeful the state would not make a cut as high as 7 percent.
A year later, Gov. Jay Nixon announced the cuts: 7 percent.
As a result of the budget reduction, the STLCC administration was forced to cut $3.3 million from its budget. More than 60 support service positions were eliminated, along with child care for students, individual athletic teams for each campus and the community relations staff was reduced.
, new president, said the cuts were very difficult, but they could have been worse.
"The academic side of things has not been cut throughout all of this," Wasson said. "We have not lost faculty lines, which is amazing."
Faculty Takes a Hit
Academics may have been protected, but faculty did feel the side-effects of a tight budget. After almost a year of negotiations, the faculty settled on a 1.5 percent raise instead of the usual 2-4 percent of years past.
"We knew this time going into it that money was going to be an issue," said Doug Hurst, a communications professor at , who co-chaired the National Educators Association and faculty team that negotiated the new contracts.
In addition to the 1.5 percent salary increase, faculty received a one-time $500 check in the mail over the summer.
"Obviously when we are dealing with an increase in health costs and an increase in the cost of living in general, that doesn't go very far," Hurst said. "This year, there was an increase in our retirement contribution and a higher copay and deductible in our health care costs. Even the 1.5 percent that we agreed did not offset those costs."
Part-time vs. Full-time
Although faculty will not be cut altogether, there may certainly be an intention to change the academic modus operandi of the institution. Denise Chachere, former trustee of the college, said in an article in the student newspaper, that the college could be looking at options such as providing midnight classes or increasing the number of part-time faculty in order to offset the budget cuts.
"The trend across the country is increasing the number of part-time faculty because that's a less expensive route than increasing full-time faculty," Chachere said in the article.
Hurst said he understands the hiring of adjuncts could help the administration save money, but they would not replace the higher quality of a full-time professor.
"We are the best trained and this district has prided itself in having some of the best faculty members in the state, so you hope they put a higher priority on the quality," Hurst said.
Lobbying for the Future
On Aug. 25, Wasson along with other university leaders will be meeting at Gov. Nixon's mansion to discuss the future of higher education in the state of Missouri. Wasson said he sees it as a sign Missouri is invested in its college students.
In June, however, Nixon announced $172 million in cuts, a large part of it which went to help Joplin’s relief and reconstruction efforts. Of those cuts, $16.8 million will come from higher education.
But as prepares for what seems to be another year of tough choices, Wasson said he hopes higher education will soon again be a priority of the state government.
"We are grateful for the governor and the legislators for providing us the funds that they have," Wasson said. "We understand these are difficult times, but we also hope as the economy recovers and tax revenues start coming back in at higher levels, that we will be considered first to have our funding resumed."
Carlos Restrepo is a freelance journalist for Patch.com. Restrepo was formerly editor-in-chief of Meramec's newspaper, The Montage, and news editor of Webster University's newspaper, The Journal.