Buoyed by Enrollment Increases, FVCC Budget Remains Strong

By Beacon Staff

Despite freezing tuition costs for the next year, Flathead Valley Community College officials say the school’s budget is looking strong, buoyed by soaring enrollment and an increase in state funding.

Last week, FVCC’s board of trustees voted unanimously to give preliminary approval to an approximately $13.8 million general fund budget for the 2010 fiscal year. The suggested budget represents a 12 percent spending increase off of last year’s budget – or about $1.5 million more.

“It’s great to see (a healthy budget) without an increase in tuition, too – that’s a real plus,” Bob Nystuen, a board trustee, said.

Earlier this year, the trustees voted to freeze tuition levels, but endorsed a 3 percent fee increase, totaling just $12.60 per semester for a full-time student.

A college budget committee had recommended a 6 percent tuition increase, which would have cost full-time students another $77 per semester. FVCC President Jane Karas, however, asked trustees to hold tuition at the 2009 level – or $93 per credit – for in-district students in order to help those struggling in a sagging economy afford an education.

In order to hold tuition at the 2009 level, school officials feared the college would have to do some additional belt tightening. But while some jobs have been held with attrition or shifted to other departments, enrollment booms – fueled largely by laid off workers returning to the classroom in an effort to reinvent themselves – have prevented any cuts.

In fact, the college is adding several temporary positions, mostly adjunct faculty and student services workers, to accommodate the growth.

“It’s a challenge, but I think between the support we got from the state and tuition revenues, we’re going to be able to meet the demands that are being placed on us,” Chuck Jensen, FVCC’s vice president of administration and finance, said.

Enrollment has boomed over the last year. In fall 2008, FVCC’s enrollment grew 8 percent before soaring by another nearly 20 percent in the spring.

Summer session is continuing the trend, with early enrollment numbers up 48 percent off last summer. Final enrollment numbers aren’t tallied until the end of the summer session.

Faith Hodges, FVCC director of enrollment planning and research, told the board last week that full-time enrollment equivalent was 408.43 students – up from 275 FTE in the summer of 2008. In all, the total number of people enrolled this summer – part-time and full-time – is 950 students, she added.

As a result of the enrollment increases, Jensen said tuition collections are expected to climb 10 percent during the fiscal year 2010. “We’re at a record enrollment this summer and, looking at the fall, all indications are that we may reach some of our highest FTE levels ever.”

In addition to growing tuition revenue, the college expects to receive about $660,000 more in state funding this year than last. Revenue from local levies is projected to remain nearly the same, hanging around 9 mills or about $1.9 million, but that number isn’t finalized until the state Department of Revenue sets new rates in August

The bulk of the college’s general fund money transfer right back into faculty expenses, as the college hires adjunct professors to increase its class offerings and meet rising need. Total personnel expenditures are expected to climb from about $9 million to approximately $10.5 million this year.

Also, “the more students we have, the more scholarships we give away,” Jensen said, adding that about 14 percent of the college’s tuition will be waived.

The trustee board will review the preliminary budget over the next month before voting on it at their July meeting. If approved, the budget will move on to the state’s Commissioner of Higher Education’s office to be reviewed by the Montana Board of Regents.

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