GPC’s path for­ward

Col­lege has plan to weather the storm of cuts and de­creased en­roll­ment

The Covington News - - Front page - GABRIEL KHOULI

Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege has been ham­mered this year with stag­ger­ing bud­get cuts and low­ered en­roll­ment and rev­enue, but in­terim Pres­i­dent Rob Watts said students shouldn’t see any day-to-day dif­fer­ence in their ed­u­ca­tion. Watts said he be­lieves the col­lege will be on track to grow again in one year.

Watts vis­ited Cov­ing­ton Thurs­day and said the col­lege was go­ing to have a tough year given its ini­tial $25 mil­lion in bud­get cuts, which caused 282 lay­offs (nearly all ad­min­is­tra­tive), and an­other $1.6 mil­lion in expected cuts, but he said the col­lege would be OK if it could hold the line this year.

Even in the midst of the pain, the col­lege con­tin­ues to move for­ward with new pro­grams, in­clud­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in health in­for­mat­ics – us­ing tech­nol­ogy to im­prove med­i­cal record keep­ing – which will be housed at the New­ton County cam­pus. Fur­ther­more, the col­lege is hope­ful it will play a big role in part­ner­ing with Bax­ter In­ter­na­tional to meet the mega med­i­cal man­u­fac­turer’s needs.

New fi­nan­cial con­trols

“We think we’re on a path now to turn this around in a year. We’ve made some hard de­ci­sions, I mean some re­ally

painful de­ci­sions, to tell 282 peo­ple they no longer had job and it wasn’t their fault,” Watts said. “So we think we’re on a path by this time next year where we’re not go­ing to be look­ing back but will be look­ing ahead.”

Watts brought in an en­tirely new fi­nance team from out­side the univer­sity to en­sure the col­lege never again sees the mas­sive over­spend­ing that oc­curred un­der ousted for­mer pres­i­dent An­thony Tri­coli.

Au­di­tors from the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Ge­or­gia are expected to soon re­lease a re­port de­tail­ing how the col­lege got into its fi­nan­cial troubles.

Ron Key, the lo­cal cam­pus’s top aca­demic of­fi­cer, said all staff and fac­ulty are do­ing with less to make sure the col­lege de­vote re­sources to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Key, who also serves dean of hu­man­i­ties and fine arts for all of GPC, said ev­ery­one is chip­ping in as he and his fel­low deans are teach­ing classes for no ad­di­tional pay, as is Watts.

Teach­ers are also mak­ing fewer pa­per copies and mov­ing more doc­u­ments to the col­lege’s on­line site.

The New­ton cam­pus lost 26 em­ploy­ees, though as with ev­ery other cam­pus, no cuts were made to tenured or ten­ure-track fac­ulty. For ex­am­ple, in­stead of hav­ing two lo­cal em­ploy­ees cut grass, the New­ton cam­pus em­ploys only one, while the col­lege has a crew that ro­tates among all the col­leges. In ad­di­tion, Watts said the col­lege is look­ing for vol­un­teers to help fully staff ar­eas like tu­tor­ing, where wait times may be a lit­tle longer.

“The thing we must do is keep the qual­ity in the class­room,” Watts said. “That’s why we didn’t lay off any fac­ulty mem­bers and we took it all in the ad­min­is­tra­tive side and on the staff side. We wanted to make sure we had the right kind of qual­ity pro­fes­sors in front of those students.”

Re­gard­ing the re­main­ing $1.6 mil­lion in cuts that will have to be made, Watts said it’s his in­ten­tion to not cut any more per­son­nel. The cuts come from the state, which has asked state en­ti­ties to hold 3 per­cent of their bud­gets, Watts said, in case state rev­enues are down.

Be­cause the state won’t fi­nal­ize its an­nual spend­ing bill un­til around April, the col­lege has to make cuts any­way with­out know­ing the fi­nal an­swer. Watts said he and other of­fi­cials will lay out a plan dur­ing the next few weeks, look­ing for more ar­eas to econ­o­mize. Lower en­roll­ment

En­roll­ment this fall is down about 10 per­cent across the col­lege from last year’s ap­prox­i­mately 27,000 students, mainly due to new, more strin­gent ad­mis­sion stan­dards that al­low fewer students need­ing re­me­dial English and math classes.

The New­ton cam­pus has been hit hard as its en­roll­ment has dropped nearly 16 per­cent from last year as of Fri­day’s num­bers. New­ton’s en­roll­ment is 2,294, while it was 2,723 last year, ac­cord­ing to Key. The en­roll­ment had steadily in­creased over the years, in­clud­ing big jumps last decade; the New­ton cam­pus had only 1,634 students in 2006.

The en­roll­ment drop is not unique to GPC, as en­roll­ment was down at the ma­jor­ity of in­sti­tu­tions around the state, Watts said. Fu­ture plans for New­ton cam­pus

The New­ton cam­pus is one of GPC lo­ca­tions most primed for growth, as the col­lege owns 100 acres and is us­ing roughly half, Key said. The cam­pus has two aca­demic build­ings, but has room to add a hand­ful more in the com­ing years.

Once en­roll­ment starts to push 3,000, Key said new class­rooms and lab­o­ra­tory space for sci­ence classes will be a big need.

“There is plenty of room out there to grow. This community re­ally did it right; they didn’t try to do it so con­strained,” Watts said. “We wish in some of our other places we had 100 acres. Some­times col­leges and other en­deav­ors don’t think long-term when they ac­cept 15, 20, 25 acres, and then they can’t park any­body.”

One of the big changes that will come to the New­ton cam­pus next fall is the ad­di­tion of a health in­for­mat­ics bach­e­lor’s de­gree pro­gram. Headed up Lee McKin­ley, who comes from a busi­ness back­ground, the five-se­mes­ter pro­gram (in­clud­ing a sum­mer se­mes­ter) will build on the core ed­u­ca­tion al­ready avail­able at GPC to al­low students to get a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in one of the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing fields.

McKin­ley said health records have been kept for 100 years, so the field isn’t new, but said the health in­dus­try is fall­ing be­hind the times in terms of tech­nol­ogy and deal­ing with the ever-in­creas­ing num­ber of records. Once GPC’s pro­gram is up and run­ning, it will be one of only three in the state for a field that is one of the top 10 fastest grow­ing job ar­eas in the U.S., McKin­ley said.

GPC is also ex­plor­ing more part­ner­ships with Clay­ton State Univer­sity in an ef­fort to ex­tend both of those col­lege’s reaches, which would al­low GPC to of­fer even more 300 and 400-level classes to its students.

Fi­nally, Watts and Key both em­pha­sized the huge role they hope Bax­ter will play in the growth of the New­ton cam­pus in par­tic­u­lar. The col­lege has al­ready formed a strong part­ner­ship, as Bax­ter of­fi­cials held ne­go­ti­a­tions at the cam­pus be­fore com­mit­ting to New­ton County.

Watts was hope­ful that be­tween the Tech­ni­cal Col­lege Sys­tem of Ge­or­gia and the Univer­sity Sys­tem of Ge­or­gia, the state would be able to form a strong ed­u­ca­tional path for Bax­ter and other med­i­cally and sci­en­tif­i­cally-geared em­ploy­ees with GPC play­ing a lead role.

When asked why students and par­ents should still have con­fi­dence in GPC, Watts said it was be­cause the col­lege was never lost its core fo­cus of pro­vid­ing aca­demic qual­ity, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity. A credit hour costs around $100 at GPC, Watts said, which is less than half the costs at some fouryear uni­ver­si­ties.

“I have worked at sev­eral two-year col­leges but I have never been to one where the community sup­ports the cam­pus as much as this community does,” Key said. “Wher­ever I go, peo­ple tell me how much they em­brace the New­ton Cam­pus and the af­ford­abil­ity, ac­cess and qual­ity that it pro­vides for the community.”

cour­tesy of Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege /The Cov­ing­ton News

A teacher at GPC’s New­ton cam­pus works with a stu­dent on her as­sign­ment. School of­fi­cials hope the scene above from last year will go un­changed this year be­cause no fac­ulty were laid off de­spite what could end up as nearly $27 mil­lion in cuts.

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