Walla Walla Community College trimmed $3.1 million — or about 12% — from its budget for the next school year to offset the dramatic revenue shortfall from the coronavirus pandemic.
It had to be done. And, unfortunately, even deeper budget cuts could be demanded in the near future.
The coronavirus hit at a time when higher education — particularly at the two-year college level — was facing enrollment challenges. Fewer people were opting to seek a college degree because job opportunities were plentiful and overall tuition costs had been rising for years.
So, when declining enrollment intersected with the pandemic, the budget situation became worse for colleges than most of state government.
Given that, it seems the cuts made, while unfortunate, were thoughtful and should serve the best interests of the college’s students moving forward.
Seven positions were eliminated and another eight will remain vacant for a total of 15 affected positions, according to information from the college.
Prior to last week’s cuts, about $2 million had already been trimmed from the budget of the just-completed school year.
On Wednesday, just a few hours after WWCC President Chad Hickox discussed the cuts, a new state revenue (tax collection) forecast was released providing more horrible news.
The latest forecast showed revenue would be down about $8.8 billion from the estimates when the budget was originally approved. Just a few months ago the estimates were $7 billion. This means the economic trend is continuing to slide.
Sadly, it also means WWCC — as well as every community college and even four-year public colleges — could likely be targeted for further budget reductions.
When the Legislature finally addresses the current budget crisis, which it must, community colleges could be the first place lawmakers look as higher education isn’t protected by the state constitution like K-12 education.
We urge legislators to look deeper in the budget for places to trim. Community colleges will play a critical role in boosting the economy coming out of the pandemic. They are the schools people look to to train for new careers.
Beyond that, the lower cost of tuition at two-year schools makes them a good option for people with limited income to start a journey toward a four-year degree.
For now, last week’s cuts to staffing at WWCC, as other reductions throughout the campus, will certainly hurt.
But Hickox wisely targeted the latest cuts so they would least impact students. No programs were eliminated.
Reaching the 12% cut threshold should offer some protection from future cuts locally. Let’s hope that is the case.
Top-notch higher education is critical to Washington’s future.