By Sophia Deiters and Kevin Lopez
Grand Rapids Community College’s Board of Trustee met on Feb. 20 to swear in re-elected members, discuss falling enrollment and approve budget allocations including additional funding for the Michigan Reconnect program. This was Charles Lepper’s first board meetings as president of the college.
Nathaniel Lloyd, Director of Budget and Business Services and Lisa Freiburger, Vice President for Finance and Administration presented the 2022 to 2023, mid-year budget amendment.
“Clearly the highlight of our revenue is the decline in enrollment. We saw it decline 7.5% in Fall and 3.5% in Winter,” said Lloyd. “The budget amendment had a corresponding PowerPoint which read, “total tuition decrease of $1.85 million.” However, the slide presented at the meeting also stated that the college received additional revenue from the State with aid increased by 3.9%.
Vice Chairperson Brame asked Lloyd if this decline in enrollment was consistent with other colleges in the area and he confirmed that it was.
In order to make up for some lost revenue, Lloyd explained that GRCC had to cut some wages and benefits. The presentation stated, “overload and adjunct pay estimates decreased related to enrollment decline.” Overload in this circumstance is any compensation that is paid to a faculty member aside from their salary.
In reference to this, Freiburger said, “Adjunct and overload is a good example of things we are able to adjust in real time, so to speak. So when enrollment does go down or up, it is often overload and adjunct expenses that vary with that enrollment revenue switch.”
Additionally to cut expenses, GRCC terminated their contract with the previous cleaning company and created positions within the college to take their place. Freiburger mentioned that she would have a tuition report to be approved by the board of trustees at the next meeting in March.
The meeting began with Kathleen Bruinsma, Kenyatta Brame, Salvador Lopez, David Koetje all being sworn in by judge Angela T. Ross for their 2023 service on the board. Chairperson, Koetje mentioned that trustee, Brandy Lovelady Mitchell was out of town and therefore unable to attend the meeting.
The meeting continued as a motion was granted for the current board members to retain their official positions with Koetje continuing as chairperson, Brame as vice chairperson and Bruinsma as secretary. Although absent from the meeting, Sheryl Siegel will also retain her position as treasurer.
GRCC Police Chief Rebecca Whitman was then called to the podium to announce the public safety committee would be retaining its same members from last year. The appointment was unanimously approved.
Chairperson Koetje also highlighted the importance of the police in the wake of the Feb. 13 shooting at MSU, though the incident was never mentioned by name and wasn’t addressed until later in the meeting by President Lepper.
“In response to the tragedy at Michigan State, Chief Whitman and Lisa Freiburger and I co-led a conversation on Friday about campus safety,” Lepper said. “Because the tragedy was so close to home, I think we really experienced some real heightened emotion around that. As you can imagine many people in the GRCC community have connections to Michigan State, whether it was loved ones, being there or having attended the institution themselves. So we’re just being very very mindful of that and how that impacts our community and continuing conversations around campus safety.”
Alex Miranda, the president for the newly named “Student Government,” appeared for the first time in front of the board of trustees and wanted to update everyone on what they had been working on. GRCC’s student government had been referred to as “Student Alliance” for the last several years.
Miranda wanted to stress to the board the importance of student involvement.
“We’ve seen that a lot of students have been wanting to get involved at GRCC and in general their community,” Miranda said. “Advocating for their needs has been a trend ever since the pandemic.”
Which is why Miranda said they changed their name as they felt that it was more clear and concise than the vague “Student Alliance,” in turn they hoped it would attract more students. Currently, the student government executive board has three openings.
Student Government advocated at the meeting for a student wage increase and lowering parking costs to $3 or even possibly $2.75. The reasoning behind this was due to the country’s economic status and the increase in prices everywhere, a lower parking cost would help alleviate stress for students, Miranda said.
Closing the board meeting was Frank Connor, who was there to represent the GRCC Faculty Association. He spoke of the importance of the adjunct professors and how that they are usually the ones most affected by budget cuts as their positions are cut when GRCC reduces class offerings due to lower enrollment.
“Adjuncts are so important to this institution but they’re also one of the first to be affected when we have any kind of changing enrollment,” said Connor. “As the board, thinking about ways you can at least understand and honor those folks that provide us great instruction but are also temporary and easy to be pushed aside when we don’t have enough classes. (It) can be a real hardship for some of them.”
The meeting concluded with all the trustees unanimously approving all the consent items on the agenda, and grants received this year including a $998,000 congressionally-directed spending request to build an automation lab, a grant for $22,731 from the Prioritizing Parents Fund for Play and Learn GRCC, and a $506,494 grant to cover the out-of-district portion of tuition for students from Ottawa county in the Michigan Reconnect program.
To watch the complete meeting click here. The next board meeting will be held on Monday, March 20 at 4:15 p.m. on the fifth floor of RJF.