Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011-04-26 "Napa Valley College prepares for higher fees, course shifting in wake of millions in cuts" by Victoria Rossi from "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
Facing another year of budget uncertainty and up to $4.3 million in state cutbacks, Napa Valley College has begun looking for ways to make money.
“A cultural shift has to occur,” college President Edna Baehre-Kolovani said in an interview last week with the Register’s editorial board.
In the last three years, Napa Valley College has lost $1.4 million in state funds. Some years, the cuts haven’t been as severe as expected — “It’s always the budget guy crying wolf,” said John Nahlen, the school’s vice president of business and finance. Last year, the school waited until October — three months after the start of its fiscal year — to see a final state budget.
Unpredictable state funding “is making us much more entrepreneurial,” Baehre-Kolovani said. “It’s painful for people who aren’t used to it, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
The college will shift about 70 art, musical theater, and physical education sections to fee-based community classes — a move that, in addition to preserving student access to certain courses, could also bring in more revenue for the school.
The shift is partly a response to projected budget cuts. It also preempts legislative proposals that could limit state funding for students who repeat for-credit classes for recreational purposes, or restrict their ability to re-enroll in such classes.
Baehre-Kolovani has also planned to group community classes that offer business skills training under the umbrella “Institute for Business Excellence.” The Institute would be made up of six centers geared toward some of Napa’s main industries: The Center for Health Care Training, Centers for Trade & Technologies, Green & Alternative Technologies, Entrepreneurship, Public Safety, and Hospitality.
Many of these certification classes already exist at Napa Valley College, but Baehre-Kolovani hopes the new organizational structure will “make it more recognizable to the community.”
The funds gained from the new community classes would help cover operations costs for the college’s academic programs, she said.
Some remain uneasy, however, about the source of that money. “My fear is that long-term it's going to take us in the wrong direction, that we'll cease to be a public institution,” said Alex Shantz, president of the Associated Students of Napa Valley College. “If we're getting money from private sources, that’s more incentive for the college to adhere to what those entities want.”
Baehre-Kolovani said the changes were “not a shift in our mission. We are just going about it differently.”
The state’s 112 community college campuses may see an $805 million reduction for the coming school year, officials said. In that worst-case scenario, the Community College League estimated that Napa Valley College could lose up to one-third of its course sections.
Napa Valley College will move many of those cut course sections to community classes. Napa Valley College will not eliminate entire course offerings this year — just some of the class sections, officials said.
Transitioning some sections to community courses would allow some instructors to “continue to make a wage,” said Kevin Luckey, the dean of Physical Education and Athletics. “So it becomes a win-win situation.”
The community classes would differ slightly from the for-credit offerings. “They wouldn’t have the same academic rigor,” he said. They also wouldn’t last as long as for-credit courses. And they would cost more.
How much those new courses would cost, and exactly which ones would shift over, is still under review by the Office of Instruction. In determining which sections to cut, Luckey said the instruction office will look for classes with low enrollment or a high number of repeat students.
Earlier this year, the state legislative analyst proposed restricting repeat students’ access to for-credit classes that students are taking for personal enrichment.
According to its report, 52,000 students repeated the same physical education course last year that they’d already taken in an earlier semester. Another 20,000 students did the same with fine arts classes.
“I don’t think taxpayers should be paying for personal enrichment classes for the residents of California,” Baehre-Kolovani said. “If I’m one who likes to take art and I want to take an art class, I should pay for it. It shouldn’t be on the taxpayer’s back.”
But the college wants to ensure that such students can still enroll in some form of those courses, said trustee JoAnn Busenbark.
“We have the seventh largest population of seniors in the state,” she said. “These are our life-long learners. What we offer is a critical part of their lives.”
All students, repeat or not, will be seeing some measure of tuition increase next year. The state budget plan will raise community college fees from $26 to $36 per unit, or a $300 increase for a full year’s course load. They could be raised even more if the Legislature and the governor don’t reach a budget compromise.
“The community college system as we have known it is going to go through drastic changes,” Busenbark said.
Baehre-Kolovani, who has worked at community colleges in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, has seen these changes before: When economies in those states declined, state support for education decreased and community colleges were forced to look elsewhere for funds. California’s community college system, which still charges the lowest fees in the country, is following in their footsteps, she said.

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