TRAVERSE CITY — Local tuition rates likely will stay flat at Northwestern Michigan College as administrators instead lean on reducing faculty expenses amid efforts to balance next year’s budget.
NMC President Tim Nelson said officials are looking to leave several full-time faculty positions unfilled next year as they offer buyouts for long-time instructors who may be considering retirement. Faculty in the English and math departments will be targeted first but the offer is entirely voluntary, he said.
“We’re negotiating that with faculty,” Nelson said. “Last time we did a plan like that was in 2000. We want to start with positions that we think we can reassign to other, existing employees. … We looked at the English and math departments because of their size and their percentage of full-time employees.”
In-district tuition rates for Grand Traverse County residents likely will remain flat at $103.70 per credit hour but will increase by 5 percent for out-of-district students, Nelson added. But locals will this year be forced to pay an extra $6.20 per contact hour for new “facility fees” to compensate for the flat rate, he added.
All rate changes are pending final board approval; retirement incentives are being negotiated with the recently formed Faculty Association. Nelson said he hopes to incentivize retirement for some of the most senior instructors on the final and highest-paying rung of the salary ladder.
Maritime, health occupations and business faculty will not be allowed to participate, according to the offer. But several instructors will be able to take a separation package that includes 50 percent of their base salaries spread over three years. They’ll also have to make the decision next month and resign in August.
Some instructors contend the package isn’t as generous as a similar offer laid out 17 years ago that offered to pay $60,000 over 10 years. Others said administrators could be doing more to encourage early retirement.
“I think it works well for people who have already decided that they’re retiring in the next year or so,” said communications instructor Bronwyn Jones, noting she doesn’t plan to take the offer. “I think if the idea is to get people who intend to work for another three, four or five years, it needs to be more incentivizing.”
Jerry Dobek, vice president of the college’s faculty union, said the potential cutbacks are misguided. He contends the positions — if they’re filled with adjunct professors — will lead to diminished academic quality. Those left unfilled will only increase the number of students in classrooms and have the same effect, he said.
“I find I hard to stomach why we would want o cut back on full-time faculty,” Dobek said. “Targeting math and English, personally, I think that’s going to be a tough pill for the community to swallow. We’re cutting back on two of the most important aspects of education.”
Faculty Association President Brandon Everest reemphasized that negotiations will hopefully lead to a better deal for faculty. The offer presented by the college is only administrators’ initial suggestion. There will be plenty of room for improvement, he said.
“We plan to get another iteration next week after we have a chance to review and make suggestions,” he said.
A projected 4.18 percent decrease in student contact hours next semester is pressuring officials to scale back next year’s budget. Nelson said rising healthcare costs paired with unstable state revenues created concerns but the college still will be able to end next year without a deficit.
Application and registration fees will be removed to simplify the process and encourage more students to enroll. About $100,000 will be spread across faculty for raises through the union’s bargaining agreement. Another $250,000 will go toward construction and $50,000 will be saved for unfunded pension liabilities.
“We also found some additional reductions in supplies and materials,” Nelson added. “We just looked for general reductions to see which areas could be cut to balance the budget … We’ve saved money and some of that will pay for the construction of the new facilities we’re building too.”
NMC’s board of education next meets on June 26 to solidify next year’s budget.