PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College officials plan to lay off some staff as the college works to overcome an $800,000 deficit that officials attributed to declining enrollment.
Peninsula College President Luke Robins did not say how many positions will be cut, but said the cuts do mean that the majority of continuing education offerings will be suspended.
“Any time you have to reduce the number of folks on your staff it’s a tough decision,” Robins said. “Our goal is to maintain … services to students and look at ways we can build our enrollment.”
Robins said the root of the college’s financial woes is the ongoing decline in enrollment, a problem that was compounded when the college saw more than a 25 percent drop in the number of international students enrolled last year.
“Statewide and nationally, two-year college enrollment has been down for four years,” he said. “At the same time, costs continue to escalate and we’re in a situation where the revenue we’re generating from tuition, fees, enrollment and headcount is not keeping up with overall costs.”
Enrollment at Peninsula College has continued to decline nearly every year since 2009.
In 2009, there were 8,737 students enrolled at the college at 3,044 full-time equivalent (FTE). Enrollment dropped to 4,454 students at 2,079 FTE last year.
Officials said they could not provide current enrollment numbers because the year isn’t yet complete. The enrollment numbers provided include the total number of students enrolled during a given year.
Though enrollment at the college has been steadily dropping, the college was able to attract more and more international students — who pay more for tuition — each year until 2017. Then the college saw a 26.5 percent decrease in the number of international students enrolled.
In the 2016 school year, 162 international students were enrolled at the college, a number that dropped to 119 last year.
Robins said he wouldn’t speculate why fewer international students are coming to Peninsula College, but said enrollment of international students at colleges across the United States has been down the past two years.
“There are some issues in some countries in getting student visas approved,” he said. “The tuition revenue that we get from them is significantly greater than from state students, so when that enrollment goes down it disproportionately affects the budget.”
He said the state also has been boosting salaries in recent years, but has not fully funded those pay increases. He estimated the state has provided funding for about 70 percent of pay increases.
Robins would not say how many positions could be cut and said the human resources department is watching retirements and resignations closely.
“We’re not trying to be less than transparent, we’re just not sure with all the moving parts,” he said.
He said the college has two primary sources of revenue. One is from the state, an allotment that is based on enrollment. The other is tuition, which also is directly related to enrollment.
“One of the moving parts we’re not clear about is what the Legislature will do with next year’s budget,” he said. “What we have to do is … assume enrollment is flat and assume there is no new money.”
Robins said the continuing education program largely will be suspended throughout the next year in an effort to cut costs.
“Historically that hasn’t been even a break even,” Robins said. “It’s a loss leader, in business terms.”
The community education program provides courses such as art, beginning Spanish, carpentry, color theory, flagging, welding, drumming and others.
He said the college will take a year to do some “systematic rethinking” about how the college provides community education and that the goal is to start again sometime in the next year.
He said it isn’t known yet when the courses would return.
Robbins said layoffs were not the first choice for cost savings. The college has worked to streamline class schedules and looked at ways to be more efficient in terms of scheduling and cutting unnecessary travel.
He said the college is focused on maintaining services to students and is looking at ways to build enrollment.
Part of that includes more effective marketing and recruiting, he said. He said the college is looking at other ways to generate revenue and to diversify revenue streams.
He did not say how much of the $800,000 deficit was solved through other means, but emphasized that human resources makes up 80 percent of the budget.
“That’s the nature of the work we do,” he said. “Human resources are our most valuable resources at the college.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].