HOULTON, Maine — Officials at Northern Maine Community College are making significant spending cuts to offset a nearly half-million dollar budget deficit, citing increased operational costs, flat state appropriations and anticipated flat or slightly decreased enrollment for the fall semester.
The cuts in services and personnel include a nursing position at the Houlton Higher Education Center, which upsets the seven nursing students currently pursuing their degrees there. The students fear additional costs for travel and childcare, should they need to commute the 42 miles to the Presque Isle campus to finish their degrees, as well as the potential loss of some of the hands-on instruction they have been receiving in Houlton.
Tim Crowley, president of NMCC, said Friday the college is working to find ways to deal with a projected $470,000 budget deficit for the 2015 fiscal year.
“We have faced budget challenges before, where it’s been necessary to hold the line on spending during the second half of the fiscal year,” he explained. “But in the upcoming budget cycle, we can clearly project that revenues will not be able to keep pace with increased costs.”
He said the college needed to make cuts in order to maintain and improve the quality of programs and services, and most of the cuts needed to come from payroll, which represents 70 percent of the costs of running the college.
Four faculty positions will be lost to the budget crunch, according to Crowley. One will be the nursing position at the Houlton center, one in arts and sciences and two in business technology. He said the college is investigating all options — such as holding discussions with members of the business community — to assist the seven nursing students being served in Houlton as they complete their program of study at NMCC.
Crowley met with the Houlton students Friday morning to hear their concerns and discuss ways the college could help lessen the impact of the changes.
“I met with them for a little over an hour, and I told them that we will continue to deliver instruction to the Houlton site, via our video technology,” he said. “That is not going to end. We will try to have a schedule for them in July to give them more of an idea about how this is going to go for them. But this group will graduate, and I don’t believe this will mean the end of the nursing program in Houlton.”
Kate Michaud, one of the nursing students who met with Crowley Friday, said she left the meeting feeling like NMCC officials would work with them, but she is still concerned about her and her classmates’ future.
The Houlton resident said she fears losing the nursing instructor in Houlton will mean a loss of hands-on instruction, and she also fears she will be required to be on the NMCC campus more, which she estimates could cost her between $900 and $1,500 for gas alone. According to Michaud, Crowley said scholarship money might be available to help with the cost, but it wasn’t a guarantee.
“There is also childcare to consider for those of us who have children,” Michaud said. “And the weather. Houlton to Presque Isle is a long commute during a snowstorm.”
Her classmate, Cara Brinkerhoff of Linneus, agreed. She said she was “flabbergasted” when she received a letter telling her about the changes in the program.
“Some of us have jobs, which is why we are taking classes in Houlton,” she said. “Adding in a commute cuts down on the hours we can work. I also am concerned about the money for gas, and I don’t have a reliable vehicle. My car broke down on me on the way back from Presque Isle last year. I am so concerned over many things, and I’m just waiting to see what happens in the next few months.”
Additional cuts to the budget also will be made by leaving a number of vacant positions unfilled. The college will be making cuts in contracted services, including closing the NMCC office at Madawaska High School, though Crowley said courses will continue to be offered at that location. Cuts also are being made to the facilities maintenance and athletics budgets.
Crowley said Friday making the cuts was difficult on everyone.
“The idea of losing faculty members who have contributed so much to our programs over the years is tough to accept, and these decisions were very difficult to make,” he said. “The budget obstacles have been mounting for years especially since state funding has dropped from 48 percent of our total revenue in 2008 to supplying only 32 percent currently. State appropriations have simply not kept up with the cost of providing our educational services.”
The college is continually working to discover ways to increase revenues while keeping costs low for students, he added.
“We are determined not to allow these cuts to negatively impact the quality of our services or to diminish the opportunity to grow our most in-demand programs,” he said Friday.