President's Page - April 21, 2020

Blog 21: Looking Ahead - COVID-19 Implications

Much has transpired since my last communication of 3/31/20. In terms of maintaining our students, supporting Barton employees, and continuing our enrollment functions and support services, Barton is performing at a high level of efficiency and effectiveness. As a measure of that effectiveness, I point to our spring and summer sessions enrollments. We are now within 2% credit production of meeting last spring’s final count and there are 5 weeks remaining for spring enrollment. Also, point in time summer enrollment is nearly 30% ahead of last year’s pace and hopefully this trend will continue. From anecdotal information gleaned from our peer institutions, we are a leading institution in maintaining our mission focus and services to our students. Genuine appreciation is extended to each of you for your sound contributions. 

Common questions have been posed to me the last several weeks as to the future of Barton services and operations. These questions have been in relation to our COVID-19 realignment of services, fiscal year 2021 (FY21) budget constraints, and the unknowns concerning State and federal legislation. 

This past week, the Barton Board of Trustees were presented with an initial budget overview for FY21. Our budget picture is not favorable, which for the last 10 years I have routinely noted. You will agree that for this year, we are truly in “uncharted waters” and revenues are far from certain and tenuous. Not only are we forecasting a shortfall of nearly 2 million dollars, but there are 5 additional prevailing challenges that cannot be measured anytime soon. FY21 budget development will proceed with emphasis to reduce beyond 2 million, or be in a position to reduce beyond when the full implications of any of the 5 challenges, noted on the left hand of the Budget Summary document, become measurable. The College is to receive $930k in Stimulus 3 federal legislation funds. However, half that amount is to be paid directly to students on a basis to be determined by the College. The other half is available through an application process and guidelines for application have not yet been made clear. Unfortunately, our legislated budget process requires the FY21 budget to be formally adopted and processed by early August and it is likely that the full implications of the noted challenges and Stimulus funding will not be fully known. At this time, I believe it is prudent to share that College employees should not anticipate an inflationary wage increase for FY21; the College will not be funding the Strategic Plan; and professional development travel and conference attendance will not be supported (unless provided internally or in the virtual domain). There will undoubtedly be additional budget cutbacks. For FY21, the College will fund technology, virtual based learning strategies, current selection of face-to-face courses, and maintenance of ongoing agreements with our partners that in turn directly generate/retain course enrollments.

In association with our budget deliberations, I bring to your attention The Chronical Review article that further reinforces the unknown. The primary questions identified in this document include:

  1. Will the financial pinch felt by many impede or grow community college student attendance and public financial support? 
  2. Will virus anxiety and fears reduce student enrollments and/or number of enrolled credits? 
  3. Will the current acceptance of the alternative online approach fundamentally alter the future educational landscape and student decision-making? 

There will be changes in the educational domain – secondary and post-secondary. For budget and operational responsiveness, we must anticipate and plan for the forecasted changes that are not yet fully clear and/or are still developing. Hoping for no change is not an ingredient for responsible planning.

Further identified factors are shaping the fall semester services and operations and they are included in The Topeka Capital-Journal article on uncertainty in higher education.

The purposes of the above narrative are threefold - transparency, awareness for circumstances, and the foundation by which you can express your thoughts and/or share your opinions. As we look forward, we can together maintain and meet the Barton Mission and achieve our commitments to improving lives.

Many thanks to each of you for your service and continued best of health to you and your family.