Lower enrollment leads to tight budget

By Olivia Sullivan - Staff Reporter

Declining enrollment numbers have put a squeeze on the Highline budget.

Although Running Start numbers are on the rise, the number of students continues to drop which leaves the budget in risk of not meeting state enrollment requirements this year.

"I believe enrollment has dropped because the economy has improved," said Cathy Cartwright, the Highline director of financial services. "People are back to work, when they go back to work, they don't go to school. [They think] 'I can go get a job and make money, I don't need further education.'"

Highline does not have the excess funds like it has had in past years, but that doesn't stop Highline from putting money where it matters.

"About 70 percent of our budget is for people," said Cartwright. "We're a heavy-people based service, because what we're doing is providing a service to our students."

Highline's funding comes from three main sources: $25.47 million comes from state funds, $11.76 million comes from tuition and fees, and $7 million comes from dedicated local support and contributions, such as Running Start, International Student Programs, and other local resources.

The budget totals $44.23 million for general operating funds.

"Running Start and international students [are] the majority of that money," Cartwright said about the Dedicated Local Support and Contribution category. "They also play a big role in projects on campus."

Expenditures in the budget are broken up into categories based on the type of expense and then by which division is using the funds.

"Almost half of the budget goes to instruction," Cartwright said. "Who gets the most money? Instruction. And who should get most of the money? Instruction."

Cartwright said the budget accurately reflects the college's main priorities, such as academics and student performance.

"With the new allocation model, there's more emphasis on student achievement," said Cartwright. "Highline has always really cared about how our students do. I think that's what makes this place special. … When you're in a class, you know the instructor really cares how you do. There's even more of a focus now."

For program expenses, $21.52 million of the $44.24 total expenditure allocation is spent on instruction. Money put toward instruction includes all expenses related to academic affairs such as supplies, training, and salaries of instructors, among other things.

Highline spends $3.1 millions on IT services, $3.15 million on academic support, $3.7 million on student services, and $5.4 million on plant operations and safety for the campus.

The top three categories of expenditure money go into academically focused areas, Cartwright said, totaling almost $30 million of the total $44 million.

By employment group, Highline spends $6.67 million on administration and professional exempt staff, $9.5 million on full-time faculty, $5.9 million on part-time faculty, and $5 million on classified staff.

"Exempt staff are people like deans, directors, program managers, [and] executive assistants," Cartwright said. "Classified staff are many of our frontline people that are represented by the union. Between the two, you are looking at the folks behind the scenes that keep the college running."

When Michael Pham, the vice president of the college, began working at Highline a year ago, he redesigned the budget to make it easier to understand exactly where the college's money comes from and goes, Cartwright said.

"He looks at budgets differently than our previous vice president – [Michael's] a budget person," Cartwright said. "When he started at first I was kind of scared but then I realized, he speaks my language."

Under Pham's guidance, the college changed how each budget item is categorized, instead of lumping all the similar categories together, said Cartwright.

"We're trying to be more accurate in our budgeting and to have the story more transparent," Cartwright said.

"It has impacted in the way that we don't have the excess tuition we used to have. Last year, we just exactly met our FTE goal. To meet that FTE goal, we had a lot more adult education type courses."

FTE is the term for full-time equivalent students, Cartwright said.

At the end of the year, Cartwright does a report to determine under-budgeting or over-budgeting in certain areas. Due to lower enrollment numbers, the college just met the enrollment requirement.

"Enrollment remains a challenge," she said. "With the new model, making the FTE is critical. If we don't make it, we lose money."

For every student taking 15 credits, Highline receives a dollar amount from the state, she said. The FTE requirement is given each year and monitored each quarter.

"It's on the downward trajectory," she said. "We really need to keep it where it is."

In the upcoming year, Highline will start various four-year degree options. These programs may cause a spike in enrollment.

"There is a potential to increase enrollment in the two-year programs that lead into the BAS degrees, and then the enrollment and tuition for the upper level classes," Cartwright said. "It is definitely something that we will be watching closely."

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