Alabama Southern prepares for state budget cut

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2008

DEMOPOLIS &8212; With the state legislation in special session this week hammering out the details of the education budget for next year, there has been much said about the potential changes ahead for the K-12 school system. All three local public school systems have made preemptive personnel cuts in preparation for the anticipated budget.

But at the other end of the spectrum is higher education, made up of two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

Preliminary estimates of the budget have shown larger cuts in general for higher education, with the most recent figures showing 8 percent for two-year colleges and 11 percent for universities.

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According Angelia Mance, director of the Alabama Southern Community College Demopolis Campus, higher education institutions have historically felt the brunt of cuts in times of economic stress. For the next fiscal year, Mance said she expects Alabama Southern will experience at least a 7.5 percent loss in funds from the state.

The Demopolis campus only employs three administrative staff (including herself), two custodians, two full time teachers and two adult education teachers. The rest of their staff is shared among the four other Alabama Southern campuses in Thomasville, Gilbertown, Monroeville and Jackson.

Because they are already so tight on their staff, Mance said she doesn&8217;t foresee any personnel cuts for next year. But there will be some places that will have to pick up the slack. Already this summer they canceled some classes that did not reach enrollment requirements.

From last summer, enrollment &8212; the main factor in determining their finances &8212; is down. Mance suspects many potential students have had to forgo additional education in favor of the workforce so they can help support their families.

But on the upside, Mance said slower economic times are usually a good thing for community colleges. Enrollment increases because the cost of other alternatives, such as more pricey four-year institutions, is too much for many families to bear in financially stressful times.

Other places that may be affected by a slimmer budget are conference opportunities for staff due to the increased cost of travel. They will also not fill any vacancies for the next year.

Mance has seen the other side of the pink slip slip as well. After spending four years on the faculty at the University of North Alabama, a year of severe budget cuts and later proration meant she and a significant number of fellow faculty members did not get their contracts renewed. She then had to leave the state to find employment.

When asked about the disparity between this year&8217;s numbers and last, Mance said it is something everyone in the education field has had to deal with.