Uncertainty is detrimental in any organization. According to the New York Times, personnel cuts tend to engender feelings of anxiety and helplessness among those left in their positions. According to one interviewee, guilt, gossip and casual online job research comes in the wake of significant force reductions. None of this is good for morale. At the same time, many institutions bounce back from large scale culling, performing even better than before. Announced cuts in staff at Allan Hancock College may strike a blow against esprit des corps. On the other hand, they might serve as a needed measure to place the college on sound financial and academic footing, provided they are part of a larger plan of reform.
Allan Hancock is a two-year public community college located in Santa Maria, California. With approximately 11,500 students, the college sits on four campuses and has a mix of associate degree candidates and continuing education learners. Many of its graduates go on to earn bachelor’s degrees. Employing both full- and part-time faculty and staff (including student workers), Allan Hancock College engages 1,300 in its labor force. If 30 percent of the jobs are eliminated over five years, nearly 400 employees will be terminated, a large reduction that will bound to send ripples through the community. The question remains: will these after-effects be minor and fleeting? Or serious and long-lasting?
It may be small comfort but colleges and universities all over the United States are struggling with budgetary matters. In fact, Moody’s predicts that by this time next year, the rate of academic closures or mergers among smaller institutions will triple. Many of these endangered schools are replacing scholars and scientists with MBAs and corporate executives to occupy their presidencies and chancellorships. The good news is that some of the formerly threatened colleges are now thriving; the bad news is that, like Allan Hancock, staff layoffs were part of the antidote.
Regis College, for example, a small women’s college outside of Boston, faced a seven-million dollar deficit in 2001. Acting decisively, the college administration expanded its applicant base, invested in its most reputable programs and, yes, shrunk payroll by 30 percent. In Nebraska, Midland University president (and now U.S. Senator) Ben Sasse slashed personnel, negotiated debt re-structuring and reinvigorated student recruitment to bring the institution from the brink of bankruptcy to phenomenal growth. Minnesota’s Anoka Technical College has a similar turnaround history.
These—and many other—examples underscore an important truth. Staff cuts themselves do not save higher education institutions from going under. However, if they are part of a package of prudent budgetary downsizing, cash-flow improvement and expanding pools of prospective students, some reductions in staff contribute to financial survival. Such cutback scenarios are referenced in Allan Hancock’s agreement with the faculty union. Beyond contractual boundaries, however, the college does well to adopt a broad range of financial remedies.
The administration of Allan Hancock College may not be legally obliged to perform a thorough top-to-bottom analysis of its income and outflow prior to making these cuts in human resources. Yet, if other colleges are any indication, it benefits immensely if it does. It can only rely on layoffs (and tuition hikes) for so long.