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After over a decade of teaching renewable and solar energy technology at Santa Fe Community College, Xubi Wilson was recently informed the solar energy program and his program head position were going to be dropped. Wilson is staying on as an adjunct professor.

More than a year into what officials are calling a financial emergency largely tied to the coronavirus pandemic, Santa Fe Community College has cut five of its programs and laid off several staff members in a second round of workforce reductions.

The college announced in early May it would end its solar energy, exercise science, hospitality, fashion design, and architectural and interior design programs. It cut six filled positions and eight vacant jobs.

The news came shortly after the college’s governing board approved a $36.1 million budget for fiscal year 2022, with a $1.2 million shortfall caused by declines in revenue and rising costs. Officials said the program and staff cuts saved upward of $450,000, and a nearly $380,000 dip into cash reserves helped cover the difference.

Last year, the school lost $2 million in tuition and fees from declining enrollment.

“The outlook for tuition and fee revenues still remain at a very low amount,” said Nick Telles, vice president of finance.

The board had to declare an emergency to be able to begin making cuts in May 2020, he added. At that time, when the college campus remained closed in the early weeks of the pandemic, 80 workers were laid off.

With $7.8 million remaining in the school’s cash reserves — money necessary for short-term expenses and emergencies — some faculty representatives are questioning the need for so many cuts.

They are asking for clearer guidelines about the fiscal emergency, which gives the college president more control over staffing and program decisions that would ordinarily be open to challenges from the board, staff and the community.

“It gives the college carte blanche to take actions which they would not be able to do under normal conditions,” faculty union President Stephen DeGiulio said in a recent interview.

“I would hope that this can be regularized, and concrete criteria adopted and made mandatory that [requirements] have to be met in order for a financial emergency to be declared,” he added.

While the state Higher Education Department tracks key fiscal metrics for colleges, approves operating budgets and monitors cash reserves, it does not provide specific criteria for schools declaring financial emergencies.

Telles said in this case, declaring the emergency last year — and having the ability to lay off workers who couldn’t do their jobs with the campus closed — was key to preventing millions of dollars in projected losses.

“We’re currently moving forward to figure out how we will bring a bookstore back, and later food services,” Santa Fe Community College President Becky Rowley said in an interview.

While the college struggled with revenue losses due to a drop in enrollment, federal aid for colleges earmarked for one-time use provided little long-term help, officials said during a governing board meeting earlier this year.

Declining enrollment and closed facilities are familiar causes for financial crunches at higher learning institutions amid the pandemic. But a spokesperson at the Higher Education Department said the agency wasn’t aware of any other schools in the state that have declared a fiscal emergency, even as some remain on enhanced financial oversight plans.

Students at Santa Fe Community College won’t be able to major in programs that have closed, but classes on those topics will still be offered. Current students with declared majors in those programs will be able to finish their degrees.



The hospitality program, which has only one student with a declared major, was recommended for closure after a regular four-year audit process, according to the college. But the other programs were nixed after a special audit spurred by the pandemic.

The school evaluated cost, attendance, faculty numbers and job prospects for students in different programs, Rowley said.

“There are still programs with low enrollment that we’re running,” she said. “There were specific reasons why the ones we ended up terminating were selected for that.”

According to numbers provided by the college, there were just three students enrolled in the solar energy program at the time of the audit.

The head of the solar program, Xubi Wilson, said more students were engaged in it under other majors through the college’s School of Trades, Advanced Technologies and Sustainability.

Wilson, who’s been with the school for more than a decade and helped lead faculty unionization, is staying on as an adjunct professor.

Enrollment in the solar program was higher a few years ago but had slowed more recently, he said.

Meanwhile, solar energy companies that are struggling to fill positions, like Santa Fe-based Positive Energy Solar, are hoping to find ways to fill the solar education gap. The company sent a letter to the governing board May 11 expressing disappointment over the program’s closure.

Santa Fe Community College and Central New Mexico Community College are the only schools in the area that provide solar energy training, the company noted.

“While the job pool is struggling to find people for positions, there’s a growing number of solar companies as well,” said Christopher Fortson, Positive Energy Solar’s marketing director. “There are more companies operating here than ever.”

Wilson doesn’t believe the school had adequate reasons for cutting the solar program.

“I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “The solar program was one of the least expensive programs per degree and per credit hour.”

It’s not yet clear what kinds of decisions the school will make about criteria required for a fiscal emergency. At a recent board meeting, faculty senate chairwoman Kate McCahill said the group wanted to work with Rowley on setting it up.

“I do think it is something that we should look at,” Rowley said. “I don’t know the answers to those things. And I don’t have any specific recommendations to put forward right now.

“I really don’t like the way that we have to do this,” she added. “But it’s the way we have to do it.”

(24) comments

Russell Toal

For a Santa Fe "Community" College to do away with its solar and hospitality programs is sheer lunacy. This needs to be reversed. If the programs have low enrollment then focus on the "why" and make the changes to increase enrollment in these needed programs.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup]

Jason Evans

The 'why' is 'no demand in the marketplace for people with these skills.' Live with it.

Richard Reinders

There is a high demand for all trades right now there is a shortage of willing workers, they say the work place needs around 10 million workers right now.

Maria Bautista

Are you from Uranus, those skills are the foundation of eveything Hollywood.

Patricio R. Downs

So many pitchforks and torches on this one...

From what I gather - I know someone who works at the college - SFCC was working to fix their financial issues from years past and had built up a reserve pile of money "saved for a rainy day". They'd started to turn the corner, then COVID hit. No students in seats in a lecture hall due to "stay at home" orders makes it really tough to keep enrollment up.

Over the past year, with the state still being locked down to some extent, how many people are honestly going to be able to take, say, chemistry lab courses? Welding classes? Sure, you can enroll people in math, English, or office technology classes via distance learning (online mostly), but on-ground classes during COVID are next to impossible.

I'm of mixed feelings about the closure of some of the programs. Solar, we definitely need if our cars are going to be electric, our homes are going to lack gas heat or cooking appliances, and if we're to stop putting so many pollutants into the air. (Before you guffaw about the electric car comment, how do you think you'll be able to charge your car? Diesel generator? Or via a solar electric system with storage batteries?) However, what do we know about enrollment in this program? It's nice to say, "if we build it, they will come," but if you're only getting a few (single/low double digit numbers) people enrolling? To me, that's a tough sell.

As far as the fitness program, I've been to the school's fitness center and used their swimming pools and weight room. I also notice that most of the people using the facility are older folks. (Santa Fe is quickly becoming a retirement community, I keep telling ya!) Having fitness programs with instructors is a fine idea in good times, but if the state is locked down and it's impractical at best (and dangerous, at worst) to conduct in-person fitness classes with the country's most vulnerable population, it makes sense what the college has done here.

Isabelle Sandoval

The term community for SFCC encompasses youth, adult, and senior persons. Taxpayers fund SFCC. It would have been a good faith effort for SFCC to partner with the City of Santa Fe to collaborate the use of their pools with the city for the benefit of the entire community. Again, what is the accountability of the Board of Regents and the President?

Jay Coghlan

Not to worry, SFCC has a program funded by LANL to train 400 machinists for expanded plutonium pit bomb core production at the Lab.

Now there's a growth industry, nuclear weapons for planet overkill. A real reflection of community values!

Jay Coghlan

Nuclear Watch New Mexico

www.nukewatch.org

Maria Bautista

Alan Webber has built all housing projects to

accomodate the 5,000 LANL employees being transfered to NM for the nuclear trigger uranium por increase.

Isabelle Sandoval

What is the plan for SFCC to increase enrollment? I voted to approve the bonds to upgrade the Fitness Center and pool. What is the accountability from the Board of Regents to serve the Santa Fe community?

Brenda Dye

I have been taking fitness classes at SFCC for many years. One of the most popular instructors was laid off when the Exercise Science program was discontinued, even though the majority of the classes he taught were not directly related to Exercise Science. SFCC is making poor decisions to lay off good, highly qualified instructors who will go on to find other employment. Then, when our economy has recovered from the impacts of Covid, and people are looking for classes to take, there will be very few quality instructors left, and people will look elsewhere for classes. Dumb, short-sighted decisions, in my opinion. It would be better to keep good instructors and find other ways to cut the budget. But, as others have stated, SFCC is not famous for making good decisions.

Khal Spencer

So we want to go to a green economy and we kill the solar program? We want a healthier population so we kill exercise science?

If there are so few students in the solar program, is that because the college shut its doors or because students can't figure out that in a fast growing sector of the economy, they might want to be getting AA'sor AS's in this stuff.

Yep...makes about as much sense to me as anything else going on these days.

One thing I do hope is that the capability of these programs is rolled into larger programs rather than losing the capability. If its a matter of saving money by getting ride of "programs" and cutting administrative positions, that is one thing. But given how colleges and universities have proliferated administratium and replaced full time faculty by P/T and adjuncts to save money, I have my concerns.

Richard Reinders

I wonder if these programs do regular visits at the High Schools to discuss the courses and the direction of the country in solar. We all know high school kids are completely disconnected from the media, so how else will they know.

Kim Griego-Kiel

I cannot believe that I agree with you and Richard. LOL! But there it is. Bad moves on the part of SFCC, especially in the solar program. I would encourage folks to contact the board and the President on this. After all, the community funds this institution.

And I completely agree with the idea of talking to the local HS students. I don’t think they know how many options there are at SFCC. We are at a place where cutting trade school education is not the answer.

Richard Reinders

Agreed, regular visits to discuss all the trade programs would increase enrollment, the school system lost me in the 11th grade , I GED out and joined the Army at 17 as an option so it is important to give options before we lose the student to the streets or?

Maria Bautista

Hi Kim, I worked for TV-I in ABQ. We developed a program called ADPREP, basically high school students could take their required course work, 9-12 at their HS. But from 1-5, they focused on advance placement classes. General Mills funded the program.

B. Rosen

I cannot even remember the last time SFCC was on a solid financial footing, It has been horribly mismanaged for many years. They need to hire someone at the top who knows how to keep a budget and make decisions based on the community’s actual educational needs.

Richard Reinders

The President and the Governor said they are replacing all the oil jobs with renewable energy jobs? Of course they would shut down the solar dept. it makes as much sense as the rest of the state and countries decisions.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Programs were cut in solar and hospitality, two major areas of our local economy. The college is supposed to be coordinating with local business to meet their needs. I don’t get it.

Paul Leo

It doesn’t seem to make sense to me that 2 programs which should have wide appeal in our community are getting cut.

Khal Spencer

Maybe the Board of Regents needs to be awakened from its slumber to take a look.

Henry R.

Unfortunately, the Santa Fe Community College has been making poor decisions for many years at the expense of tax payers, staff and students.

Reynaldo Morales

SFCC cuts programs; the cuts were made in early May. Why did it take the New Mexican over a month to report on it. And what is SFCC doing to increase enrollment.

R. Morales

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