Proposed state budget cuts are drastically transforming the Tyler Junior College landscape.
“If those cuts come to be, I think it will affect every individual who has any stake in the college,” TJC president Dr. Mike Metke said. “In one way or another it has to affect how we fulfill our mission. It has to affect the programs and services, and it has to affect student cost.”
Texas is facing a two-year budget shortfall that ranges from cuts of at least $15 billion up to $27 billion. These statewide cuts will affect most programs including higher education.
“We’re very early in the process to watch what’s happening, but it’s going to affect every state culture in a community college and the communities that we serve,” Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Business Affairs Sarah Van Cleef said.
With the way the budget currently looks, TJC could be facing up to $5 million in state budget cuts. According to Metke, there is no way the college could raise tuition and fees enough to cover the $4 to $5 million dollars in cuts.
“I don’t know what that would be per student but I don’t know if even doubling the cost per student would cover that,” Metke said. “It’s like nothing any of us have ever seen. I’ve never in my…probably close to 40 years in higher education, I have never seen anything like this.”
The state funds go to instructional costs, which involves anything that has to do with teaching and instruction.
“In our case where our programs are full, we’ve already reduced some of our programs that weren’t as strong so everything we have right now is viable and full,” Metke said. “So if we continue to get cut then it gets really, really difficult.”
According to Metke, if not handled correctly, the two-year problem could become a much longer process.
“I think we’ve got a two-year problem and the real danger is that we’re going to make bad decisions that are going to harm the mission of the college three, four, five, 10 years after,” Metke said. “So the decision, we make for the next two years are really critical so that we make temporary savings but we don’t do any long-term harm.”
According to Provost Dr. Butch Hayes, to deal with the budget cuts classes may have to increase in size.
“We may have to, an option, spread the classes out and put more students in the classes,” Hayes said. “That would be a direct impact students would feel and the faculty would feel too, so we’ll have to come up with better strategies of helping people in large classes.”
According to Metke, the next step they’ll have to take is closing programs.
“We’re having to make judgments about programs and, you know, it’s a little bit like the movie Sophie’s Choice where she had to give up one of her children,” Metke said. “You start to feel like which of my children is not important or whose future is not important.”
When deciding on which programs to cut, the administration will be looking at many points including which fields have higher wage rates and stronger job prospects.
“The real danger is that we’ll make decisions that will harm the college way into the future,” Metke said. “Once you close a program it never comes back.”
According to Metke in 1980, 80 percent of the cost of running TJC was funded by the state. This year the state funding covers about 23 percent.
“That 23 percent is all the instructional funding and if we lose that it directly impacts our teaching/learning funding,” Metke said. “It comes from the state, so even though it’s 23 percent of our budget it’s the heart of the institution.”
According to Metke, the administration has already made money-saving steps like not buying new computers, setting up new labs or having faculty travel as much.
“Frankly I don’t see how we can keep the enrollment where it is with the kinds of cuts we’re seeing right now,” Metke said. “Those aren’t just cuts of direct funding. There’s also a lot of indirect money that we get.”
Some indirect funding that TJC receives is for the databases in the library and funding for job training grants are from different agencies and state sources whose funding will also get reduced.
“It’s like a hurricane is out there and we’re tracking it,” Metke said. “From day to day that varies so these aren’t the final budgets but it’s very troublesome.”
According to Metke, enrollment is up while funding is down.
“I think they’ve talked about somewhere in the neighborhood an overall 30 percent cut in funding and a 20 percent overall state increase in the community college enrollment,” Metke said.
The administration is currently looking into what changes they might have to make with the huge budget cuts.
“You know we’re starting to look at program reviews and such,” Metke said. “We plan to pull focus groups from all the different employee groups together and try to brainstorm best ideas. That’s going to happen in the next, probably, three weeks where we’ll get employees from different employee groups together and ask them for their best ideas.”
According to Hayes, Texas has never seen a budget cut this drastic.
“The best words that I can give everyone right now is that it’s still preliminary,” Hayes said. “We know the cuts seem to be more drastic than they have ever been in the past…We’ve never seen anything like this. It will impact how we deliver instruction probably. Probably, I want to underscore that word because with less money you can’t do what we’ve been doing.”
It could be as late as the end of August until the college gets the finalized state budget cuts and it is expected that many special sessions will be called.
“We don’t want to say the sky is falling but it’s pretty darn scary, like a meteorite heading right towards the planet here and we hope it doesn’t strike,” Metke said. “It’s very early, but we know that the state has a huge deficit; we know that we have to do our part.”