Columbia serving students well in this fiscal crisis
Guest Opinion /
One might conclude that doing more with less is being efficient. In
emergency situations, we have all had to tighten our belts to get by.
Even in the short term, a newly acquired efficiency can survive. At
Columbia College, we have coined the term "over efficiency." It sounds
good, but it cannot be sustained over a long period of time - especially
in education. Eventually, a point of diminishing returns threatens
quality and productivity.
By the end of our Spring 2010 semester, Columbia College will have lost over 16.3 percent of our instructional full-time faculty through retirements. To date, we have not replaced these vacated positions. Yet, our student enrollment is up approximately 17.6 percent over our "cap." Cap is the enrollment figure that the state pays "up to" a certain point. The State of California does not reimburse the college for students served over the cap. In essence we are serving many more, than we are being paid to do.
Columbia College's student enrollment has increased 7 percent over last year. The college faculty, staff and administrators have accomplished serving more students with less ... we have had severe cuts to matriculation and counseling at a time when external policy experts are arguing for significant increases in these student success strategies.
To compensate for the cuts, we actively pursued grants. We have written for and obtained some grants to support our college foundation, distance education program and research efforts all requirements to maintain our good standing with the accrediting commission. Columbia College has done what we have needed to do, to continue to serve our students during this "fiscal crisis."
We cannot continue at this pace much longer with our "over efficiencies," continuous budget cuts, non-replacement of retiring faculty and staff, and double duty positions by staff. These are commendable efforts during an emergency situation, but it is impractical to believe that they can be sustained at this rate. Eventually, there will be a point of diminishing returns - we are sprinting when we have to run a marathon; it will take its toll.
Even in spite of the state wide fiscal constraints on our budget, Columbia College has so much to offer its students. Distance Education is gaining momentum as we reach residents throughout our communities. Our curriculum is constantly being reviewed and updated to keep pace with current technologies and emerging trends to make our students competitive in the workplace and ready to graduate or transfer to four year universities.
This reminds me of the popular opening to a great classic novel, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... " Despite being at or near the tipping point, Columbia College is focusing on all the positive things that we have happening at the college. All of the faculty, staff and managers are continuously working to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each student who enters Columbia College, regardless of their educational development, has an opportunity to exit with the skills and education they need to achieve their goals.
We know that many in the communities we serve have positive stories to tell of our campuses. Our elected officials who are making budget decisions that directly impact our service to students need to know about our course prioritization, the unfortunate but necessary situation of overcrowded classrooms, and the sacrifices that faculty, staff and students are making to survive these challenging times.
Columbia College's participation rate is above 100 percent. That means that the actual number of students in courses, EXCEEDS the capacity, creating a standing room only scenario. Of course we accommodate students with appropriate seating, but the point is that even though we are continuing to serve students well, being as efficient as possible to the point of over efficiency, we must also state our challenges in doing so. There is a "tipping point" that we are facing at Columbia College - there is only so long that we can keep doing more with less.
Dr. Joan Smith is the president of Columbia College.