Chancellor: System $27 million short

Published 8:47 am Monday, June 21, 2010

The chancellor of Georgia’s universities, Erroll B. Davis, said during a visit to Bainbridge College Thursday that the system will start its new budget year with a $27 million shortfall.

Not good news he discovered on Thursday after the university system suffered some severe budget cuts this present fiscal year, which will end on June 30.

Although $27 million is but a very small slice of the pie for the university system’s $1.9 billion budget, it still means that the system will have to search for $4 million within the next two weeks, and hunt for $23 million right off the bat as it begins its new fiscal year on July 1.

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As for Bainbridge College, President Tom Wilkerson said the college will have to find approximately $20,000 before July 1, and than start looking for ways to make up the approximately $150,000 shortfall for next year.

Wilkerson said if the college continues to attract students at the pace it has been, then the budget shortfall will be absorbed.

As far as the larger scale, Davis said despite recent tuition hikes—which will equate to $1,199, or $50 increase for BC students—the amount the state spends per capita for students has dropped.

When Davis first became chancellor, the state spent more than $9,000 per student in 1996, and that amount has dropped to a little more than $6,000.

“I believe we are at the bottom of a trough, but the bottom doesn’t mean better. It just means not worsening,” Davis said.

Last March, Davis was challenged by state lawmakers to drastically reduce the university system’s budget, which included items that would have been felt by students here.

Among those proposed cuts submitted to the University System of Georgia included the elimination of Bainbridge College’s continuing education, paramedic/EMT and drafting programs, and reduce the number of LPN students from 120 to 50 and cap the ADN program students to 40.

Wilkerson predicted then and was correct now that those dramatic cuts won’t happen.

Academic building

However, the tight state budget also means that Bainbridge College will continue to endure its tight quarters.

Davis said Bainbridge College is still on the list to receive the OK to proceed with the planning and construction of an academic building, which would complement the student-fee funded Student Wellness Center currently under construction.

“We do have a six-year capital plan, and the (academic) building is in that capital plan, but it’s depending upon our ability to get funding from the state,” Davis said, adding that the academic building is one of the Board of Regents’ key needs.

“We are challenged, as everyone else is, by the economy,” the chancellor said. “It’s certainly needed. The growth here has been explosive.”

Bainbridge College’s student main campus population is expected to exceed 4,200 in the fall, and the Blakely campus may surpass the 1,200 enrollment figure.

Even though he is not involved in the search to replace the retiring Wilkerson, Davis said the search committee will set its perimeters of the new candidate and ultimately select three to five finalists that the Board of Regents will consider for the top BC job.

“I look for change agents plus team players, so it’s a difficult combination,” Davis said. “But we are looking for people who understand that they will have to be productive and strategic within the contexts of the system.”

Davis said the main challenge for the new president will be growth and managing it.

Tour, meetings

Thursday’s visit marks the seventh trip the chancellor has made to Bainbridge College since becoming the head of the 35-degree-granting institutions.

He said he likes to make those visits in order to listen and learn.

“So I’m just out asking how we are doing,” Davis said.

He met with President Wilkerson, faculty, community and foundation leaders and then students. He also toured the campus, including the Student Wellness Center, which he categorized its construction as going exceptionally well.