Otero Junior College faculty and staff began the start of Spring Semester with an All Staff Meeting on January 5. Before presenting the ‘State of the College’ address, President Jim Rizzuto honored Pat Sena, Rocky Ford, and Ardeth Sneath, La Junta, for their years of service to the OJC Advisory Council and Child Development Service Board. Both Sena and Sneath are retiring from the council and board this year. Sena has served for the past 18 years and Sneath has served for the past nine years.
“We appreciate their dedication to the college and CDS over the years,” said Rizzuto. “Their insights into our communities and guidance on policy and visions have been invaluable to the college and CDS,” he said. Rizzuto presented Sena and Sneath each with a plaque, as a token of appreciation for their years of service.
Also honored during the All Staff meeting were Stephen Simpson, Faculty of the Year; Rebecca Horton, Classified Employee of the Year and Denise Mosher, Administrator Pro/Tech of the Year. The three employees of the year will again be honored later in the spring by the Colorado Community College System at an event in Denver.
After expressing his deep appreciation to the faculty and staff for their outstanding work during the fall semester, OJC President Jim Rizzuto began his ‘State of the College’ address by outlining some of the challenges the college will be facing over the coming months, as well as some exciting new projects.
“We are starting to see some improvement in the economy, and when that happens, historically, college enrollments tend to decline because people go to work, instead of back to college. We are seeing a decline in enrollment at OJC; compared to last fall, we are down 19.5 percent. Some of the decline is tied to the economy, but more significantly the decline can be attributed to a new process for counting high school concurrent enrollment; a declining area population and new regulations that have gone in place that limit the amount of student loan debt that students can incur,” explained Rizzuto.
Rizzuto said that in past years the high school concurrent credit enrollment was counted in the fall semester; new policies at the state level however, now requires the college to count that enrollment in spring semester. This change in policy accounts for about 12 percent of the fall enrollment decline. Rizzuto said that this percentage will be recouped in spring semester once the full-year concurrent enrollment is counted.
The declining area population has also had a significant impact on the college’s enrollment numbers. Rizzuto explained that while OJC enrolls over 90 percent of area seniors into the college, one of the highest penetration rates in the state, the fact that there are fewer students in the local high schools is beginning to take a toll on enrollment.
Page 2 of 3 - A new challenge that has surfaced for the college this past year is the high national student loan default rate. Rizzuto explained that a college’s ability to offer financial aid becomes at risk if their students have a default rate above 30 percent.
“Currently the OJC student loan default rate sits at 27.1 percent,” said Rizzuto. “To ensure that we do not jeopardize our ability to offer financial aid to future students, we have put in place some criterion to make sure students are not overextending themselves. That criterion states that a student cannot have over $15,000 in student loan debt and must be making progress toward degree completion.”
Rizzuto explained that there is a review and appeal process for students who find themselves in this situation. He said that over 80 students this past fall were in this category of having too high of debt loads.
Some good news to share was an improvement to the state budget projection. “The state budget is now showing $60 million above initial projections. If this holds, I would not expect to see any cuts in this fiscal year to higher education,” said Rizzuto.
Rizzuto went on to explain that colleges are currently being funded 50 percent from the state general fund and 50 percent from tuition. “This is a major shift from what we’ve seen previously; that breakdown stayed around 75 percent state general fund and 25 percent tuition for many years. The trend to place more of the burden of cost for higher education on the student is probably here to stay,” he said.
Also on the horizon could be a change in the funding formula for higher education. “Currently colleges are funded out of the general fund based on enrollment. There are some discussions going on that would change that funding formula to include retention rates. We are working hard to shore up our retention rates right now, because we fully understand it is less costly to keep a student and make sure they are successful than to recruit a new student,” said Rizzuto.
Rizzuto outlined some new programs that will be coming to the college over the next few months. Those include:
· Develop additional Career and Technical Education programs that have a high demand in the workforce as well as expanding some of the current programs
· Adding five new programs in the Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, based on funding from the recent $10 million STEM grant.
· Continue to build retention and remedial programs
· Launch a Women’s Intercollegiate Soccer Program in the fall of 2012
· Launch a Student Leadership Program in the fall of 2012
· Develop health and wellness programing in the new Fitness Center
· An international student retreat will be held at OJC within the next year that will host over 20 students for six weeks on campus
Page 3 of 3 - Rizzuto also gave an update on capital construction projects:
· The new Fitness Center has been completed and a ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening will be coordinated once students are back on campus
· A fourth dorm in the E.J. Conley Housing complex will begin construction this spring
· Construction of a Learning Commons Center that will be connected to Wheeler Library will begin this spring. The Center will incorporate a modern library concept with the Student Success Center and should become the hub of student learning and interaction
· A wheelchair lift has been installed on the stage of the Ed Stafford Theatre
· Digital monitors have been put up across campus to help communicate events and activities to students and visitors.
Rizzuto concluded his comments with the announcement of a four-month process to outline an aggressive strategic plan to increase enrollment for fall semester and beyond.
“Every person at OJC will have a part in helping us develop how we are going to position OJC for the future. We are going to see tremendous changes in the way education is delivered over the next few years and I’m confident that OJC will be on the cutting edge of the technology and innovation that is sure to come,” he said.