Empty Desks

Citing a declining enrollment crunch, Wytheville Community College announced Tuesday that it would be laying off 18 workers – 16 full-time and two part-time.

The move comes amid a reorganization that will also leave vacant five positions in administration, faculty and support staff.

Most of the 16 full-time positions will be eliminated at the end of the year. The part-time jobs will be shed by the end of the month. The positions come from administration, teaching and support staff.

“We sincerely regret this decision,” WCC President Dean Sprinkle said in a release. “These individuals have been loyal employees; unfortunately, without increased sustained enrollment growth, the college budget cannot sustain all of the positions that we have.”

In a Sept. 26 email to faculty and staff, Sprinkle told college employees that despite efforts to increase enrollment, the college was unable to generate sufficient revenue to fund current operations.

“Because personnel costs make up the majority of the overall budget, we are unable to balance the budget and position the college for the future without layoffs and a major college-wide reorganization,” he wrote.

Several factors contributed to the shortfall, Sprinkle said. He noted that since 2010-11, the college has seen a decrease of more than 900 full-time students. Meanwhile, he said, high school enrollment is dropping off, following a steady decline in population. Sprinkle also cited an increase in the number of high school students taking dual enrollment courses.

 “WCC’s state funding is based on a three-year enrollment average,” Sprinkle explained in the release, “so for a few years resources from previous years were available to help cover tuition losses from year to year declining enrollment. “

Sprinkle noted that the college had left vacant positions unfilled whenever possible, reduced departmental budgets and worked to increase recruitment and retention efforts.

“Unfortunately, personnel costs are the largest part of the overall budget, and we have reached a point where we can no longer balance the budget without significant changes,” he said. 

Virginia Community College Systems Spokesman Jeffrey Kraus said Monday that the decline in student enrollment is not unique to WCC.

VCCS has seen an overall decrease of more than 30,000 full-time equivalent students since peak enrollment in 2011-12.

“Over the past seven years, we have had declines all over the commonwealth,” he said. “This is occurring across Virginia and across the nation.”

He explained that when the unemployment rate drops just by 1%, college enrollment also drops, but by about 2.5%.

In July, media reports showed that Thomas Nelson Community College would be restructuring and laying off. The college, according to the reports, also had layoffs in September.

The Roanoke Times in April reported that six employees would be cut from Virginia Western thanks to a drop in enrollment.

“What you’ll see and we certainly saw this during the Great Recession, is that as unemployment creeps up, so do our enrollment numbers,” Kraus said. “That’s been a reality of ours for a very long time.”

As of July 1, WCC employed 108-full-time employees and 115 part-time employees.

Since grant-funded positions aren’t part of the college’s operating budget, those position won’t be impacted by the cuts. Those laid off, according to the release, will be made aware of grant-funded positions for which they may qualify.

Most WCC layoffs will take effect Dec. 31, but some employees will stay on a little longer to meet the college’s needs or to finalize projects, according to Sprinkle’s email. 

The vice president of instruction and student development position is among those set to be cut. According to the email, the person who holds that position also serves as the head of the Medical Laboratory Technology Program and will see through the program’s accreditation before she leaves.

Cuts to the teaching faculty include those in accounting, English, history, information systems technology, dental hygiene and machine technology. Support staff cuts include those in the dean’s office, foundation and public information, technology, financial aid, the library, the help desk, computer support services and dental hygiene.

Part-time administrative assistant positions in the nursing and dental program and at the Crossroads Institute will also be eliminated. The Summit Center in Marion will not be affected.

In the release, Sprinkle said the college’s reorganization plan will help the college provide the best possible services with the resources they have.

“Unfortunately, this means the elimination of less-viable programs and a greater dependence on shared resources among remaining college departments and with other VCCS colleges.”

 

Teaching responsibilities and other duties will be picked up by the remaining program faculty or adjunct faculty, Sprinkle said. Courses through the VCCS Shared Services Distance Learning may also be offered.

In the email, Sprinkle said full-time employees affected by the layoff will be able to either retire or receive severance packages.

To absorb the responsibilities of those affected by the layoff, the college will implement a reorganization plan, which will see several administrative faculty members, including Sprinkle himself picking up additional duties.

Teaching responsibilities and other duties will be picked up by the remaining program faculty or adjunct faculty, Sprinkle said. Courses through the VCCS Shared Services Distance Learning may also be offered.

“Please know that the Leadership Team and I regret having to make these difficult decisions, both for our employees who are directly affected and for remaining employees who will be asked to absorb additional responsibilities,” Sprinkle wrote in his email to faculty.

Though the email took an overall somber tone, Sprinkle reserved some hope in his closing.

“The reorganization will not only allow the college to maintain fiscal responsibility, but it will also position the college for future strategic growth opportunities. I appreciate the dedicated services of those who will be leaving and appreciate the willingness of remaining employees to work together to serve our students.”

In the college’s release, Sprinkle said, “. . . These decisions never come easy, but they are necessary to ensure that the college maintains the ability to continue to accomplish our mission.  The college maintains its commitment to serve our local region and to provide the education necessary to enhance the lives of our students. . .”

Layoffs will become effective Dec. 31, with the reorganization plan set to begin Jan. 1.

Jasmine Dent Franks can be reached at jfranks@wythenews.com.

 

 

 

 

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