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Presidential Speeches

Fall 2011 All College Meeting Remarks

Sept. 19, 2011
Maureen Stapleton Theatre


Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to take this opportunity to officially welcome you for the fall semester and to provide an update on our successes, but, most importantly, to share the challenges facing the college in the days and years ahead and to elaborate on my email shared last month.

But before I do that I want to welcome our new colleagues to our Hudson Valley family. Please refer to your handout, which summarizes all of our new employees. Rather than individually introduce all of our new colleagues, I would like to ask them all to please stand? ...New Department Chairs, New Full-time Faculty, New Full-time NTPs, New Full-time Classified Staff … Please help me welcome them to Hudson Valley Community College. You are joining the ranks of a very talented and dedicated faculty and staff, and we are all here as resources for you. You know, if there were a fantasy league and all the college presidents were to be picking their teams, I would need to look no further than those of you in this room.

When I addressed the Rensselaer County legislature this spring, I stated quite simply, that this college does more with less than any other college and any other sector of education. I would like to thank you for your extraordinary dedication to both the college and our students. It is your collective devotion that has allowed us to continue to flourish and provide the highest quality service and education to our community. My heartfelt "thank you" to all of you.

As you know, through our collective efforts in marketing, offering new programs, and providing excellent customer service, the college has experienced significant growth over the past ten years. Our enrollment rose to more than 14,000 students and increased by 48 percent during that same time. As a result of the enrollment increases and additional revenue, we have many, many accomplishments to be proud of, including updated facilities, expanded academic program offerings, and enhanced services to our students.

We have much to be proud of, and I don't want us to lose sight of all the great things we do. Though we are enduring difficult challenges, there are many accomplishments to be proud of at the same time. I'd like to highlight just a few here:

This year, Hudson Valley was named one of 120 high-achieving two-year institutions recognized for practices that improve student outcomes. We are now identified among the top ten percent of the nation's community colleges in student success. Every one of you played a role in this achievement. Also, the college placed 38th among the strongest and most productive of America's more than 1,250 associate degree-granting institutions according to a new report by Community College Week.

The College in the High School program at Hudson Valley recently became accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, a professional organization and accrediting body that advances concurrent enrollment programs in institutions of higher education and high schools. We're one of only 66 programs nationally with such a credential.
And on campus, we began construction on our new science center with a total bonded amount of $54 million. This technologically advanced center will house the Biology, Chemistry and Physics departments and other science-related programs. This is a much-needed building in terms of space and facilities. It will help our students gain the education to secure jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) related fields, which are so essential to progress in our country.

Incorporating green-build techniques, the building is designed to achieve Silver LEED Certification. Speaking of LEED, I announced last weekend, that TEC-SMART received LEED Platinum, one of seven community colleges in the nation with such a designation, and one of four colleges or universities in New York State.

For those who have asked about the future of the Science Center in light of our operating budget challenges, please allow me to reiterate. By state law, operating budget dollars are separate and distinct from construction dollars. The Science Center Project and its related renovations total $54.4 million. The funding for the project has already been secured:  50 percent from New York State and 50 percent from the College's capital chargebacks and bonding through Rensselaer County. I hope that you will all join us at 4 p.m. on October 25th for our groundbreaking celebration. More details will be forthcoming, but please save the date.

We are justifiably proud of our accomplishments and there are many others I'm not mentioning here in the interest of time. I know that our achievements are the result of our top-notch faculty and staff, who share an unparalleled passion for this College and the students and community we serve.

I would like to thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to ensure that we remain one of the best two-year colleges in the country, even in these difficult times. And I again ask for your support, as I did this past spring, in being an advocate for our college in your daily lives. There are no better ambassadors than you to carry the critically important message that Hudson Valley Community College changes lives each and every day. 

Finally, I would also like to take this opportunity to inform the college community that we have begun work on the college's reaccreditation by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education. As many of you are probably aware, every 10 years Hudson Valley goes through reaccreditation, which entails preparing a detailed self-study examining how the college is performing on 14 standards used by Middle States to assess institutions of higher education.

Reaccreditation is an extensive multi-year process and I am very pleased to announce that Ms. Vonnie Vannier, Assistant Professor in the English, Modern Languages and English as a Second Language Department, and Dr. Sondra Valle, Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs, have agreed to serve as the co-chairs of the Reaccreditation Steering Committee. They will be working with Dr. Michael Green, Executive to the President for Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Planning, to oversee the production of our self-study document. 

There will also be a number of subcommittees established to examine how the college is performing on each of the 14 standards for reaccreditation. The Steering Committee will be in regular communication, and I would ask every member of the Hudson Valley community to be a part of the reaccreditation process, be it by serving on one of the subcommittees, responding to a request for data, or just keeping informed on the progress of the self-study. I look forward to the opportunity to tell Middle States about all the marvelous things we have accomplished since their last visit.

We've accomplished much during the 2010-2011 academic year.   Now we must look forward to the coming year and focus on additional areas of growth such as our Distance Learning Program, our College in the High School Program,  the Center for Advanced Studies,  and initiatives to attract members of the Armed Forces.   When we focus on access for students, we increase our ability to best serve our students.

I indicated at the Spring 2011 All College Meeting in January that the metaphorical storm clouds were gathering, and I cautioned that we are facing a "new reality" nationally, in New York State, locally and institutionally. Well, that storm is now upon us.

Up until this year the college operations have not been impacted significantly by the recession, mainly due to the enrollment increases. As I've said before, Hudson Valley is not immune to the demographic, economic, and political pressures that surround us. The difficult economic climate confronting our nation, state and counties has had a profound impact on many of our sister institutions; both community colleges and state operated colleges.

It would be hard to miss all that is happening all around us. Other colleges have had to make very difficult decisions to cut academic programs and course sections, or increase class sizes and reduce staff and faculty positions. Many of our colleagues have had to furlough staff, cut programs, and freeze salaries. Unlike these institutions, we have not had to take such drastic measures, YET.

SUNY central has experienced staff reductions and has challenged all of the colleges to find greater efficiencies. SUNY itself decided just last month to consolidate college leadership, reduce workforce and service redundancy, and trim tens of millions of dollars from its budget.

And I am sure you all read of the very public efforts of the Governor to reign in the budget, including the threat of massive layoffs. While we can feel pretty good about the fact that we have fared well, there is no doubt that we all face a "New Reality" and must adjust to the challenges we face.

The pressures that we face come in four main forms.

First, the college has endured a 21% reduction in state funding over three years. This is 5.6 million real dollars. Further, New York projected an additional budget gap of $10 billion for fiscal year 2012; $14.9 billion in 2013; $17.4 billion in 2014; and $20.9 billion in 2015. The state plays a critical role in funding the college, and New York State's investment in higher education directly affects Hudson Valley's bottom line. It may very well get worse before it gets better with regard to state funding.

Second, we've received stagnant funding from Rensselaer County for the 11th straight year. Our sponsor county's funding of $3.1 million is the same this year as it was in the year 2000 when our enrollment was at 9,400 students. In other words, we are receiving significantly less per FTE from our sponsor compared to 2000. While I'm proud that the College has tightened its belt and managed our substantial growth through smart fiscal planning, we need the county's assistance to continue to make progress, change the lives of our students and help our community.

Third, county governments across the state are overwhelmed by unfunded mandates that make their budgets very challenging. In our area, Saratoga County refused to pay us for some students and, ultimately, lost a lawsuit with Hudson Valley and Fulton Montgomery community colleges. Last year, I met with the Albany County Executive regarding their county's concerns with the chargeback rate for Hudson Valley. The outcome: no one questions our value to the community or the great job we do for their constituents, however they simply are facing major fiscal issues. They see community college funding as an "unfunded mandate." I'd like to add that proposals to change the county chargeback funding formula will be destructive to our college budget.

Fourth, as if those challenges aren't enough, this fall the college experienced a decrease in enrollment for the first time in many years, and we do not predict growth for the foreseeable future.

As you can see in this chart, enrollment was just above 9,400 in 2000. We hit an all-time high last year, yet we're projected to drop to 13,700 this semester.

And last, other important factors that influence us are a projected 10-year decline of high school graduates; a heightened level of competition from surrounding colleges and online educational institutions; a highly stressed economy with rising unemployment rates in many communities; and increased political pressures.

If you take a look at the chart on the screen behind me, you'll see that the upper Hudson region (including Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties) high school graduation will steadily decline to a projected low of 8,535 in 2019 -- 750 students less than this year's high school class.

Doesn't sound good, does it? But this is the "New Reality" we are all facing.

While Hudson Valley remains one of the greatest educational values in the state, given our quality programs and faculty expertise, enrollment and tuition increases have allowed us to thrive without significantly impacting the operations of the college.  That is, until now.

Over the past decade, we have had it pretty good. We have not had to face such adversity, and it will require all of us to make sacrifices, increase our workload, and increase efficiencies for the college to weather this storm. I have every confidence in the professionalism and commitment that you all have already shown me, and I am certain that we will emerge from this even stronger as a result of our collective efforts.

This chart illustrates our operating budget growth from approximately 64 million dollars in 2001-02 to a current level of 112 million for 2011-12, a 43 percent increase during ten years.

Again, our enrollment has grown 48% during the past decade, and the costs of operating a college such as Hudson Valley have risen significantly at the same time.

It is clear that the next few years will not be easy for Hudson Valley. Squeezed between rising costs, reduced "real dollar" government support, and a drop in college enrollment, we must make serious adjustments to address our fiscal challenges.

As I noted in my campus-wide e-mail, I met with Senior Staff to review our enrollment projections and the impacts upon the College's next three budget cycles. We reduced the current budget and 2012-2013 fiscal years as well. We have relied upon reserve funds to balance the 2011-12 budget, yet we face a gap of four million dollars for our next fiscal year. There will be an ongoing need for minimal budget growth looking forward.

The college has already implemented certain measures, including delaying campus renovation projects and maximizing instructional loads. As you know, 75 percent of the college's budget is related to personnel costs - and we plan to honor our collective bargaining agreements - so we have reduced costs in this area by delaying searches where possible, allowing for possible attrition in non-instructional lines, and by filling instructional lines with adjunct instructors for vacancies.

All of these decisions and actions are necessary and are being taken with careful consideration for maintaining our exceptional learning environment.

In this new reality, we must think differently and we must make adjustments to avoid workforce consolidation, restructuring, or reduction. Clearly, this is no time for a "Business As Usual" approach; rather this is the time we must collectively act with a new sense of urgency and flexibility to meet our fiscal and enrollment goals, and I urge all of you to take an active role.

Today, I ask for your support as we do everything possible to manage budget shortfalls with as little impact to the college's operations and workforce as possible. With your help, we can withstand our fiscal challenges, reverse the enrollment trend, curtail budget growth, and cultivate new revenue streams.

  • We must work together to find effective cost-saving measures that don't impact student access and, at the same time, we need to be entrepreneurial and seek new sources of revenue for the college.
  • We must work diligently to increase retention of our students. From basic customer service to academic advisement, we need to be critical of how well we are serving our current "customers" and also converting newly accepted, matriculated students into enrolled students. We all play a part here, and I ask for your suggestions to be submitted via email to: Suggestions@hvcc.edu and also discussed with your supervisors.
  • As we focus on yield and retention, we must continue to explore new ways to boost enrollment in core programs that also have growth potential, particularly, Liberal Arts, Business, Individual Studies, and in our College in the High School and Distance Learning programs, the Center for Advanced Studies, and other areas. We must target new populations such as members of the Armed Forces, for one example. To that end, I invite your participation at our regular Enrollment Forum meetings led by Vice President Alex Popovics.
  • Regarding public funding, we will continue to work with our state and county officials to convey the importance of Hudson Valley. We need to mitigate potential cuts and build the case for investing in Hudson Valley, particularly in an economic downturn. We are well positioned to be a part of the solution to our communities' economic troubles, even as we face our own. But, the likelihood of seeing an influx of public dollars is slim at this time.

As Hudson Valley always has, we will face our challenges head on, and we WILL change accordingly. This is our opportunity to forge a new path, and also to sharpen our focus. AND we will be stronger as a result.

In closing, I realize that the tone of my remarks is not the same as it has been in previous years. And I have shared much difficult news. Yet I think we all agree that it is important to convey the new realities we face as a college. I know that we will overcome our obstacles, and emerge even stronger as an institution and campus community. Together, I know, we will continue to be successful. Thank you again for all that you do.

Thank you.