PRCC struggles with $1.5 million budget cut
Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 15, 2017
The Mississippi Legislature’s reduction of funding for Pearl River Community College and other schools of higher education across the state could lead to tuition increases and cuts to staff and available programs.
PRCC is expected to see a 10.2 percent, or $1.5 million, reduction in funding next year, in addition to other cuts that were made last year, bringing the total to about $2.5 million.
PRCC President-Elect Dr. Adam Breerwood said the college is still finalizing the 2018 budget, so it’s unclear what will be cut.
“Over the last many years, we have continued to have to deal with these cuts,” Breerwood said,
Tuition and staffing changes are the top two places the school does not want to turn to, he said, but all options are on the table.
In the past, the administration was able to keep tuition steady and affordable for PRCC students, but with these new cuts, Breerwood said he’s uncertain whether the school could continue that trend.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were forced to,” he said.
Last year, PRCC cut $800,000 worth of positions, Breerwood said. “Now you’re looking at a $1.5 million cut this year…that changes the scope.”
In spite of the cuts, PRCC’s enrollment increased this year while other community colleges and universities remained stagnant or lost students, Breerwood said, adding that the news is encouraging.
“That speaks volumes to a lot of what we’re doing over at the college, those are positives, and of course it does provide challenges for us to continue to serve larger groups,” Breerwood said.
Yet, he wasn’t optimistic that the funding would return in coming years.
“I do not see how. Where are we are making ourselves more marketable by taking away from education? I don’t understand the thinking quite honestly,” Breerwood said.
For the past few years, state revenue was not received as projected, but slowly cutting educational resources that lead to highly skilled and high paying jobs in this state is not going to attract industry, he said.
“Either we pay for it now or we pay for it later,” Breerwood said.
Employers are on the other side of the door ready to hire PRCC graduates, he said.
From dual enrollment for high school students to GED and career technical education, the state has asked the community college system to provide a lot for the state, Breerwood said.
“The community colleges have always been cooperative,” he said, “but you can’t be everything to all people.”
Funding and defunding programs is not an easy task, Breerwood said.
Depending on the need for it in the community, enrollment varies. Some years class sizes are small, while the next will have twice as many students who want to take the class, he said.
“Slowly, as you start to dismantle those programs, it takes a lot to bring it back,” Breerwood said.
New programs are even more difficult to start, he said. Buying equipment and hiring instructors creates a high upfront cost, and reimbursements are not received until over a year later, he said.
“If you don’t have the cash to get started, you stay stagnant,” Breerwood said. “We’re working on it daily. We’re somewhat frustrated but we’re not going to quit trying to provide those services.”
The community college system is still a good investment, he said.
“If you look at the average tuition of universities, PRCC, even if we did have an increase in tuition, is still substantially less than half of that tuition average,” Breerwood said. “PRCC provides twice the education at half the cost.”
The administration will present a proposed budget to the Board of Directors in June, Breerwood said, just before current President Dr. William Lewis’ retirement on June 30.
“He’s put us in so many situations to succeed and we will certainly lean on him in the next 90 days,” Breerwood said. “We will continue to flourish and get through these tough times.”