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NCTC sees budget shortfall with no bonding bill money for repairs

Almost all of the money Northland Community and Technical College was slated to receive has been withheld by the Minnesota Legislature, but President Dennis Bona is still hopeful.

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Almost all of the money Northland Community and Technical College was slated to receive has been withheld by the Minnesota Legislature, but President Dennis Bona is still hopeful.

At one point NCTC stood to receive about $400,000 of an $800 million bonding bill.

The bill failed to pass last week and Bona said Thursday that the school is only getting $11,000 from a supplemental allocation.

"We're grateful for every dollar but it doesn't move the needle very far," he said.

The money could still go to NCTC through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System if the Legislature goes into special session, something Bona said would be nice because the school needs funds to repair the roof on the East Grand Forks campus building, renovate labs and do a mechanical renovation of the theatre on the Thief River Falls campus.


Pieces of the roof are about 20 years old and at the end of its lifecycle, Bona said.

The science labs need renovation to hold more students while remaining compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the theater doesn't have working air conditioning.

"We could use it more if we get that facility upgraded," he said.

If funds don't come through, the next step will be to wait until the next legislative session in January 2017, which Bona said would delay any construction or renovations by about two years.

"The can gets kicked down the road," he said.

While UND recently dealt with budget cuts and must cut 6 percent from the 2017-19 biennium budget, NCTC has been receiving less for years, seeing a 48 percent decrease in state funding from 2004 to 2014, according to Herald archives.

"We tend to grow to the extent our allocation allows us and that's no different than what happened at UND," Bona said. "When funds were available, they tend to grow and spend those dollars and when they're not there anymore, you peel back and there are cuts."

Bona said NCTC is slated to have a budget deficit of about $600,000 as of July 1, 2017. The school also had a budget shortfall of more than $1 million that resulted in layoffs in 2014.


"We've been cutting non-personnel expenses for years because funds have gradually been diminishing from our state allocation," he said. "We've had a tight budget for a long time."

Since the beginning of the 2015 school year, a hiring freeze has been in place at NCTC and jobs that come open aren't being filled.

Bona said his plan is to not eliminate programs or student services, though some services may see a reduction in staff through attrition.

"We'll do everything we can not to lay people off," he said.

Dealing with change

NCTC will also see a legislatively mandated tuition decrease of 1 percent next school year.

"We don't have control of our revenue with respect to tuition and we also don't have control of our revenue with respect to state allocation, so I have no way to gain revenue other than enrollment increases and the challenge there becomes demographically, Minnesota isn't increasing in population," Bona said.

The number of students in Minnesota earning a high school diploma has decreased in recent years from 59,628 in 2010 to 57,497 in 2014, according to Minnesota Department of Education data. The percentage of those students who enrolled in any college or university within 16 months of graduating decreased from 78 percent in 2010 to 72 percent in 2014.


Bona said he's also dealing with a culture shift as many college-age people are able to rely on their parents and not pursue higher education or do so at their own pace.

This is a change from Bona's generation, which he feels was forced to have what many call "work ethic" to support their young families.

For example, the mean age of a women having their first child was 26.3 as of 2014, up .3 from the year prior and a record high for the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics Report. The mean age of a first-time mother was 24.6 in 1970.

"What they used to say was great work ethic in my belief didn't come out of some kind of religion or an intrinsic 'I'm a good person so I work hard,'" Bona said. "They needed to work hard."

Another factor, Bona said, is that many young people attending college aren't competitive or aggressive in terms of getting one job and climbing that corporate ladder, something higher education will have to adjust to.

"They carve out a world that works for them, that puts them in a comfort zone and they're good," he said.

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