Cincinnati State tightens its belt in wake of enrollment dip and state funding cut

CINCINNATI – Shrinking enrollment and less state funding is prompting sizeable cuts at Cincinnati State to fill a $3.6 million hole in its budget.

President O'dell Owens and the board of trustees have responded to the unenviable task of balancing a shrunken budget with a 2.3 percent tuition increase for most students, slashing the adjunct teaching budget by $1.1 million, eliminating 13 jobs and putting off millions of dollars in scheduled maintenance.

President O'dell Owens attributes the shrinkage to a convergence of factors:

• Growing economy: As the job market improves, more people opt for immediate employment rather than investing in an associate's degree. "Community colleges are very sensitive to the economy. We've seen a decline in people who already have a higher degrees coming to retool in a new field, too," Owens said.

      • Less state funding: Cincinnati State expects state funding to drop more than $400,000 to $28 million, due largely to a big change in the formula that determines how big a piece of the pie each college receives, coupled with the college's transition to semesters from five annual sessions. Two years ago, 90 percent of state funding was determined by enrollment. This fall's formula includes course-completion rates and a long list of milestones.

      • Fewer high school graduates: A long-projected dip in the college-age population is in full swing. Cincinnati State is competing for fewer students along with everyone else.

Enrollment is down 11 percent compared to a year ago for the fall semester, a gap that administrators are working hard to narrow this summer and throughout the year.

"We're going through a real cultural shift," Owens said. "We've put so much emphasis on the first semester in the past.  Now we're going to put that same intense focus on each of the three semesters."

He expects the gap to narrow or close in the fall when the number of high school students who are dually enrolled in Cincinnati State classes is determined. The number of dual-enrollment students has increased from 10 in 2010 to more than 1,000 last year, Owens said, as part of a concerted effort to expand the college's reach into high schools. A thrifty path to a four-year degree from University of Cincinnati and other universities has emerged involving taking college credit courses for free in high school; courses toward an associate degree at Cincinnati State; and finishing a bachelor's at a four-year institution.

The board, which approved the new budget on July 22, added a financial incentive for students. Beginning this fall, tuition will freeze at this year's rate for those who commit to completing 12 credit hours per semester and complete their degrees within three years.

Insiders can read about what jobs Cincinnati State is leaving unfilled, what union it is in protracted talks with and a bright spot for the school.


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