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Effects of COVID-19 felt throughout GRCC; Board of Trustees learn of anticipated 12% cut in state funding

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(Sabrina Edwards/The Collegiate).

The Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees met virtually Monday afternoon for their monthly meeting. The campus has remained closed since March as COVID-19 continues to be a public health crisis. The first segment of summer classes began last week, all online. Decisions regarding the modality for the second segment are forthcoming. 

Financial Update
During the budget work session that was held on May 4, Lisa Freiburger, Vice President for Finance & Administration at GRCC, told board members she had anticipated a 5% reduction in state funding. Today she told them it will likely be a 12% cut.

Economists from the state had a Consensus Revenue in mid-May and adjusted predictions for the current fiscal year. A decline of $3.2 billion in state revenue is projected for the 19/20 fiscal year with an estimated loss of $3 billion in the 20/21 fiscal year. 

“Hopefully we will hear something about the magnitude of that cut in the coming weeks,” Freiburger said of the “unprecedented budget development process.” 

“We are still, with that, anticipating a positive June 30, 20(20) close but are certainly very concerned about what that executive order is going to look like,” Freiburger said. 

Freiburger and her team are continually working on the budget as information about funding is changing frequently. The board will be voting on a budget for 20/21 during their next meeting, scheduled virtually for June 15, though Freiburger is not confident that the exact numbers regarding aid will be finalized at the state level by that time. Because of this, she is incorporating a 15% drop in revenue from the government into the budget she will present next month.

“We have a plan to bring you a balanced budget,” Freiburger said, while offering an additional budget work session to the board between now and their next meeting. 

Pink encouraged this idea and the board members agreed it would be a good idea to have a more in-depth look at the finances before making final decisions. The date for this budget work session has not yet been set. 

“I honestly don’t believe that I would feel that comfortable waiting a month to give you… a final budget proposal without us being able to give you the latest information because the latest information tends to change fairly rapidly,” Pink said to the board.

In January, the state set a total revenue estimate of $24.9 billion in the general and school aid fund for the 19/20 fiscal year. That projection has recently been altered to $21.7 billion.

“We’ve been modeling all of those scenarios in a variety of ways,” Freiburger said. “We are able to adjust and have that data worked through… and continuing to watch what the state provides in the next few weeks.” 

GRCC received a personal property tax replacement revenue reimbursement that was “fairly significantly higher” than anticipated. This will help to close out the budget, Freiburger said.  

Trustee Cynthia Bristol asked if tuition will be impacted by the financial strain the college is facing. 

“We are not, at this point in time, anticipating bringing you any tuition changes other than what you’ve already approved,” Freiburger aswered, adding that they will “work to fix this in a different way.” 

The board approved a 1.7% tuition increase on April 20 which equates to a $2 per contact hour upcharge for residents. 

“Hang in there,” Chairperson David Koetje said to Freiburger. “Sleep well at night, we need you as sharp as you possibly can be during the day.”

Laughing, Freiburger assured him things will be fine. 

Enrollment
Two weeks ago enrollment for the first segment of summer classes was down 9%. The college has since been able to close that gap, now only down less than 2%, which is a “much less significant revenue impact.”

“Impressed and surprised” is what Pink said of enrollment numbers.

At this juncture, it is “futile” to look at fall enrollment numbers, said Pink. The enrollment department is closely monitoring the situation, though there are an array of factors that make it difficult to make predictions. 

Financial Assistance for Students
Kathryn Mullins, Vice President College Advancement and Executive Director of GRCC Foundation, gave an update on the GRCC Foundation and the scholarship they have been able to offer students during these particularly difficult times. 

A total of $1,127,288 was disbursed to 931 students during the 19/20 academic year. For comparison, the foundation gave $617,552 to 572 students in the spring of 2016. 

“I’m very proud of the work that both teams (the GRCC Foundation and the financial aid department) do together on a daily basis to ensure that we can award as many scholarship dollars as we can to as many students as we can,” Mullins said. 

Pink said he was very pleased and proud of the work Mullins and her team have put into securing scholarships and funding for students. 

“To have a foundation that can truthfully brag the point that they gave over a million dollars in scholarship dollars away the last three years, as I can recall, is phenomenal at the community college level,” Pink said. 

Student Alliance recently voted to allocate $30,000 to the GRCC food bank which has been hosting weekly curbside pick-ups. The next one is scheduled for tomorrow, May 19, from 4-6 p.m. on Lyon Street near Olivarez Plaza. People are being asked to bring a RaiderCard or other photo identification. Future dates can be found here

The Student Emergency Assistant Grant has received $5,500 in donations from Student Alliance and $3,250 from employees and community members. Nineteen students have received money for expenses they were unable to pay for themselves. The GRCC Get Help webpage had requirements for eligibility and additional information.

“These are two funds that we’ve had on campus for a while but they have never been utilized the way that we have needed to utilize them since the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic,” Mullins said. 

GRCC was allocated $3.4 million in funding through the CARES Act, which was passed in the federal stimulus package, to distribute to students in need of emergency funding. 

About 4,700 students met the guidelines for assistance. Students eligible were sent notifications  with instructions to follow in order to receive the $500 payment. The money will start to be distributed this week. 

Commencement
The college postponed the 103rd Commencement Ceremony, originally scheduled for May 1, to August 1. 

Decisions about the method for which GRCC will be conducting the ceremony – whether in person or online – will be made by June 30. Pink said they are monitoring public health and safety indicators across the state to make a final determination. 

Items Requiring Board Action
Freiburger presented a Michigan New Job Training program in association with SpinDance, a company that builds and manages software located in Holland. A total of $235,175 would be spent on a five-year training program with a five-year payback period using payroll tax withholding which is redirected to cover the costs of training. It was passed by the board with all in favor. 

In other news, the board approved an expenditure of $432,277 for repairs to be made on pedestrian bridges and $204,000 for outdated technology. 

Board Update
Trustee Kathy Crosby has been named the new Vice Chairperson of the board following the death of Trustee Deb Bailey, who lost her battle with cancer at the end of April. 

Bailey’s term was set to expire December 31, 2020. The board has begun the process of filling her vacant seat. Interviews with the prospective candidates will be held this week and next with the final decision being announced June 15 during a board meeting. Here is the schedule of the meetings and the link to watch them via YouTube. 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 10:57 a.m. on May 19 to include additional information about the consensus revenue.