Bluefield College Announces Workforce Reduction
Ten full time employee positions at Bluefield College have been eliminated in order to help the college realize its operating budget for 2009-2010.
May 1, 2009
President David Olive announced the workforce reduction during a campus-wide meeting with faculty and staff, Monday, May 18, during which time the president spoke about the difficulty of making such a decision.
"The College Leadership Team did not come to this decision easily," Dr. Olive said. "The staff reduction was a measure of last resort."
The elimination of the 10 full time positions, which represent about 10 percent of the college's full-time workforce, coupled with positions left vacant and other cuts in operations, will result in a nearly $1,000,000 reduction in operating expenses for the school, according to the president. The move, he added, represents not only the latest consequence of the current national economic crisis, but also the college's most recent effort to address its resulting budget shortfall.
As a result of current economic conditions, Bluefield College has lost 20 percent of its endowment market value since June of 2008. Gifts from alumni and friends are also down for '08-'09, not to mention the fact that the school's enrollment for fall 2008 dipped a little more than three percent from the previous year.
Monitoring these and other economic conditions and forecasts for several months and trying at all costs to avoid a correction that would directly affect employees or employee compensation, the college cut its current operating budget three percent in January of 2009. The school maintained the conservative numbers when developing the budget for '09-'10, but ultimately, Dr. Olive said, administrators had to turn to the elimination of positions to make the budget work.
"The College Leadership Team took numerous days in evaluating the school's financial situation and weighing various options before arriving at this decision," the president said. "Our decision was based on positions, not people."
The workforce reduction for Bluefield College is not unlike many other colleges in America who are struggling with a poor economy. According to a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 26 percent of America's college's were considering layoffs as early as January 2009. More than 40 percent had imposed partial freezes on faculty hiring, and nearly 60 percent had done so for staff positions. One-third of all respondents said they had frozen salaries or delayed salary increases.
Regionally, Berea College in Kentucky eliminated 39 positions earlier this month. Carson-Newman College in Tennessee cut 18 positions in April. Greensboro College in North Carolina trimmed its workforce by eight a month ago, and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire laid off 60 employees in February. In some cases, these colleges were also forced to reduce existing salaries and eliminate insurance and retirement benefits.
Other industries are not exempt. A similar survey reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that nearly three out of five American companies had either recently made or were planning to make layoffs within the next 12 months. Locally, layoffs have affected hundreds of workers in mining, health care, government, education, and other industries.
While critical, the budget and workforce cuts for Bluefield College, Dr. Olive said, do not jeopardize the school's academic excellence or the overall learning experience for students. No faculty or academic programs will be affected, and while some reduction in service due to the cuts may occur, the president added, the changes are largely quantitative rather than qualitative.
"We spent a considerable amount of time thinking and discussing how best to make staff adjustments without impacting the academic and co-curricular experiences of our students," Dr. Olive said. "I believe the plan being implemented provides us with the best solution we could hope for in maintaining strong academic programs and student services. Our focus will always be on the student."
Despite the financial challenges, day-to-day operations at Bluefield College are continuing as usual. The school is also continuing its construction of a new contemporary residence hall, a $4.3 million structure that will house about 100 students and is being financed by the United States Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Office. In addition, the college is expecting a growth in enrollment for fall 2009, which will certainly boost its budget. Applications for the school are up 30 percent compared to last fall, while deposits are up 100 percent from this time a year ago. In fact, current deposits for incoming students already equal the total number of deposits from fall 2008.
While the effective date for the position eliminations is the end of the workday, Monday, May 18, all 10 employees will be paid through the month of May. The school also is offering the workers career and counseling services, as well as information on employment resources in the region.
"Although this was a difficult decision to make," Dr. Olive added, "and certainly my heart goes out to the individuals affected, this change actually strengthens the college and positions it for growth for when the financial markets and the global economy regain momentum."