$19.1 million Berkshire Community College budget includes funding increase, future challenges


PITTSFIELD -- The $19.1 million fiscal 2015 budget for Berkshire Community College shows an increase in state funding but plants some future challenges on the administration's radar.

According to John Law, the vice president for administration and finance, the 2014-15 budget is projected at $19,175,373, up from the current budget of $18,670,981 -- an increase of $504,392.

The plan is expected to balance college spending and revenues.

"We go into the process every year trying to break even," Law said.

The current budget is a projection that is not expected to change significantly, he said, but won't be firm until the fall semester when exact state funding is known and student enrollment figures are in.

The one revenue concern stems from a decline in recent years in the total number of course credits taken by students, which affects the amount collected in student fees -- the second largest source of revenue for the college.

After a surge in the total course credits that peaked in fiscal 2011 at 49,857, the projected credit total in fiscal 2014, including the upcoming summer sessions, is 40,453.

Law said the projected figure for next year is 39,200 credits, reflecting an expected 3 percent drop.

BCC President Ellen Kennedy said the estimate is based on a national decline in the total number of course credits taken, which is related to the improving economy.

"As the economy has improved," she said, "people are taking fewer courses."

Law said the 3 percent falloff is projected statewide and was used in estimating revenue for the next school year at BCC. In terms of revenue, the general purpose fund, which includes student fees, is projected to fall from $7,609,698 this year to $7,226,900 next year, for a decrease of $382,798.

"We had a slight increase in state funding," Kennedy said, "but a number of our costs went up, so I was pleased to receive the additional funds."

She said that overall the state formula that sets education funding for individual public colleges is based on results, such as graduation rates, and that favors BCC.

"We are doing really well because so many students continue on to a four-year institution," she said.

However, part of the formula is based on total student enrollments, which favors larger institutions with growing student populations.

Kennedy said that a five-year strategic planning initiative begun last year should have a positive effect on finances. It involves all sectors of the college community and is expected to enhance and target educational goals, improve outreach efforts and develop the most efficient operating systems possible.

Law said the trend toward students taking fewer course credits (the average course providing three credits) reflects economic gains since the depths of the Great Recession.

"It is a general trend everywhere," he said. "Community college enrollment especially is a bit countercyclical. When the economy is slipping a lot of older students come back for retraining. There was a definite ramp up from 2008 to 2012."

He also cited population loses in Berkshire County, with smaller graduating high school classes in local schools, as another possible long-term factor in declining course credit levels.

"Roughly half of the students who attend BCC have been out of school for a while," as opposed to being recent high school graduates, he said.

The general mood on campus is positive, Law said, in part because the design phase is underway for major reconstruction projects at both Hawthorne and Melville halls, classroom buildings dating back to the opening of BCC's West Street campus in 1973.

With the strategic planning initiative underway as well, "There is a lot of positive energy on campus right now," Law said. "It's a good time."

To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien

To their credit

Total course credits taken by BCC students:

Fiscal 2007: 39,723

Fiscal 2008: 40,822

Fiscal 2009: 43,193

Fiscal 2010: 47,446

Fiscal 2011: 49,857

Fiscal 2012: 46,788

Fiscal 2013: 44,826

Fiscal 2014: 40,453

Fiscal 2015: 39,200

(Projected 3% decline)

Source: BCC


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