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RCC sees record enrollment increases

A surge in students at Rogue Community College has bulked up the school's proposed budget for the coming year, bringing in more tuition and prompting the hiring of additional instructors and support workers.

The proposal for the 2010-11 school year calls for revenue and spending to increase nearly 14 percent, to $33.7 million, after years of single-digit growth.

The budget focuses on teaching and student support, spending an additional $500,000 on part-time faculty to ensure basic classes are available and hiring additional full-time employees to teach math, automotive technology, welding and early childhood education classes. The amount set aside for the financial aid office will increase about $120,000, so additional full-time workers can be added, officials said.

RCC will start its next fiscal year with a carryover of nearly $4.6 million, the result of belt-tightening this year and what the budget message signed by President Peter Angstadt and Chief Financial Officer Lynda Warren called "record-setting enrollment increases."

A salary freeze and six unpaid furlough days helped save about $422,000 as school officials prepared for limited funding from the state. In this second year of the biennium, state support for RCC has dipped slightly to $6.2 million from $6.3 million.

However, unexpectedly strong enrollment growth this year brought in additional tuition. School officials expect the final count of full-time equivalents, a standard way of accounting for both full- and part-time students based on credits, to be up at least 14 percent from a year earlier, the budget message said. Some preliminary estimates indicate enrollment could increase by as much as 20 percent, officials said.

"Tuition revenues went up because enrollment was up so much," Warren explained. "That's why we have such a good beginning fund balance."

School officials expect enrollment to remain strong but, to be cautious, they have planned for a slight decrease from the numbers seen this year.

Even with that conservative approach, they have planned for a 22 percent increase in revenue from tuition and fees in the coming year, thanks to continued high enrollment and a $2-per-credit tuition increase the board already approved for next year. The proposed budget calls for $11.6 million, or 34.4 percent of revenue, to come from tuition and fees, up from $9.5 million, or 32.2 percent, in this year's budget.

Warren said the college plans to make some investments based on the increased enrollment, focusing on serving students. Officials looked at what was spent this year to provide additional sections of basic classes that were in high demand and set aside $500,000 for part-time faculty to meet similar needs in the coming year, she said.

The money would be used to hire additional instructors or pay current instructors to teach additional classes.

RCC also plans to add full-time faculty in math, where demand for classes is high; welding and automotive technology, where safety regulations require having a set ratio of teachers to students; and in early-childhood education, a popular program that trains professionals to work with small children. Spending in those areas would increase about $250,000 under the proposal.

Additional full-time employees also would be hired in the financial aid office, which is currently seeing record numbers of applications for aid. Spending there would increase about $120,000, the proposed budget says.

Overall, personnel-related expenses total about $25.5 million, or nearly 82.5 percent of the budget proposal.

Materials and services, which account for about 15.6 percent of the total, will increase 3 percent to $4.8 million under the proposed budget. Transfers to other funds, including those for the Higher Education Center, paying off bonds and special maintenance and equipment costs account for less than 2 percent of the total proposed budget.

The proposal also conserves about $2.8 million for contingencies. Warren said if enrollment continues to soar, that money could be used to hire additional instructors in the coming year. However, the college wants to save it for future years because state funding for community colleges remains uncertain.

The budget message notes that significant increases in money provided by the state to community colleges in next few bienniums is unlikely.

RCC's next budget hearing is set for May 18, and the board tentatively plans to adopt a budget for the coming year in June.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.