WWCC Dietrich Dome

Walla Walla Community College Dietrich Dome

President Derek Brandes said today Walla Walla Community College is in a state of financial emergency because of low  enrollment and the state’s funding formula for community colleges.

In an interview with the Union-Bulletin, Brandes said there will be immediate reductions to balance the budget and ensure long-term sustainability for the school.

Cuts include 16 staff positions: six classified, eight exempt and two faculty; 10 of those spots are open through retirements and resignations, Brandes said.

WWCC is also discontinuing its Medical Assisting classes for at least the coming year on both Walla Walla and Clarkston campuses, due to less than 40% capacity enrollment in the program, he noted.

Staff is being made aware of the cuts today and students will be told throughout the week. Those who have already purchased materials and books needed for the program will be reimbursed.

Campus-wide enrollment looks similar for this year, Brandes said, calling the drop significant. Much of that comes from a hot job economy that can steer people away from exploring higher education or register for the programs that promise considerably higher-than-minimum wages. That leaves programs like medical assistant with fewer students, he said.

In 2008 WWCC registered 6,670 students, Brandes added.

“Last year it was 4,573 students.”

The number of staff needed to serve 2,000 fewer students is also a big drop, he pointed out.

As predictions of an economic recession increase, that can mean good news for higher education everywhere, Brandes said.

 “You hate to say that, you want the economy to be good, but if you go back, historically the numbers are higher here during a recession.”

Sustaining employees and program offerings over the years has halved WWCC’s reserve fund, from the 20% called for by board policy to 10%, or about $3,267,000. Over the summer, Brandes and his board members analyzed revenue, expenses and long-term options, including declaring the financial emergency.

That move allows school officials to make and implement decisions to restore a solid financial footing for the community college, including streamlining the process for terminating employees.

One tool to gain balance will be assigning multiple duties to some WWCC employees, allowing the school to not refill some positions when they become vacant, Brandes said.

Another help is diversifying funding streams; the recent introduction of four-year degrees has paid off and enrollment in programs like criminal justice and human services has been healthy, the college president said.

This year some classes may have fewer time slots for people to choose from; for example, a math class may only be offered three periods a day instead of five.

“We want to make it as least impactful on students as possible, within the financial realities we have,” Brandes said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.