Due to an estimated $800,000 deficit mostly from shrinking enrollment, leadership for Port Angeles-based Peninsula College recently announced plans to eliminate about 15 positions and suspend its continuing education program starting this summer.
Continuing education programs will be offered again, said college President Luke Robins, but when is unknown.
“Any time you have to reduce the number of folks on your staff it’s a tough decision,” Robins said.
Of the cuts, Robins said 15 classified, exempt and faculty positions will be eliminated through budget cuts or not replaced after retirement but details still are being worked out. Robins said one position will be eliminated by suspending the continuing education program.
In addition, schedules will be streamlined and the college will employ fewer adjunct professors, he said.
Peninsula College will begin reevaluating the non-credit continuing education program this summer while continuing to offer for-credit courses in several community education fields including carpentry, welding and ceramics, college spokesman Kari Desser said.
Robins said the root of the college’s financial woes is the ongoing decline in enrollment, a problem that was compounded when the college saw more than a 25 percent drop in the number of international students enrolled last year.
“Statewide and nationally, two-year college enrollment has been down for four years,” he said. “At the same time, costs continue to escalate and we’re in a situation where the revenue we’re generating from tuition, fees, enrollment and headcount is not keeping up with overall costs.”
Enrollment at Peninsula College has continued to decline almost annually since 2009.
In 2009, there were 8,737 students enrolled at the college at 3,044 full-time equivalent (FTE), while in 2018 enrollment dropped to 4,454 students at 2,079 FTE.
College officials said they could not provide current enrollment numbers because the year isn’t yet complete.
In the past three school years, Sequim students’ enrollment (any age) online or on-campus ranged from 880 in 2015-2016 to 909 in 2016-2017 to 866 in 2017-2018, college officials report.
Sequim High School’s counseling office reports for this school year that of 92 Running Start students, 91 juniors and seniors take classes at the high school and Peninsula College. One other student splits his/her time between SHS and Olympic College.
For Running Start, students receive both a high school diploma and an associate degree, as well.
Peninsula College no longer operates a satellite campus in Sequim but does continue to operate in Forks and Port Townsend along with its main campus in Port Angeles.
Until recent years, international enrollment remained steady at Peninsula College until 2017 where it saw a 26.5 percent decrease in the number of international students enrolled, college officials report.
In the 2016 school year, 162 international students were enrolled at the college, a number that dropped to 119 last year.
Robins wouldn’t speculate why the drop-off but said international enrollment at colleges across the United States has been down the past two years.
“There are some issues in some countries in getting student visas approved,” he said. “The tuition revenue that we get from them is significantly greater than from state students, so when that enrollment goes down it disproportionately affects the budget.”
For non-credit continuing education courses, Robins said enrollment typically doesn’t cover the cost of the providing the program, Robins said, but the school sees them “as a service to the community.”
“What we have to be mindful of is our primary mission is to provide credit instruction to students who are working on degrees and certifications, to re-enter the workforce or transfer for a four-year degree,” he said.
“It’s less about saving money in this particular situation as it is about us being able to take the time and structuring what we are doing there and restructure the program and roll out a new process for continuing education courses.”
He estimates the continuing education programs host 100-200 students for courses such as pottery, fishing and computer use.
Robins said continuing education courses aren’t going away forever but it may take an entire year before they come up with a new plan for them.
Robins said truck driving and traffic-flagger courses will be offered as needed with enough requests.
Adult education and General Educational Development (GED) certificate courses, along with pre-college-level courses, also will continue to be offered.
The goal is to make Peninsula College courses pay for themselves and the continuing education program is not doing that, he said.
Another contributing factor for Peninsula College’s deficit, Robins said, could be Washington boosting salaries in recent years but not fully funding those increases. He estimates the state has provided funding for about 70 percent of pay increases.
Robins said Peninsula College receives its primary sources of revenue from the state based on enrollment and the other from tuition, also related to enrollment.
Due to uncertainty with the state’s budget, Robins said college leadership plan to “assume enrollment is flat and assume there is no new money.”
Robins said layoffs were not the first choice for cost savings and college leaders worked to streamline class schedules and looked at ways to be more efficient in terms of scheduling and cutting unnecessary travel.
He said the college is focused on maintaining services to students and is looking at ways to build enrollment, including more effective marketing and recruiting.
For more information about Peninsula College, visit pencol.edu/.
Matthew Nash contributed to this report.
Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb for the Peninsula Daily News can be reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Reporter Jesse Major for the Peninsula Daily News can be reached at email@example.com.