Fort Scott Community College’s Dr. Jason Kegler led a conversation with approximately 85 interested community members about the state of the college on January 24 in the Ellis Fine Art Center on the campus.
He began by explaining that last year they saw that FSCC would have depleted all but $300,000 of its savings by November of 2023. They made drastic cuts to spending to prevent needing to lay anyone off in 2023. FSCC’s payroll is approximately $800,000 per month.
Kegler said that the primary driver of the spending was the scholarship program that gives around $1,000,000 per year in academic scholarships. Toward the end of the year, the college made a change to limit academic scholarships to in-state students because those students would result in payments from the state. The administration is also going to make some changes to limit the number of scholarships to a budgeted amount to make planning easier.
Audience member Larry Shead asked if the college has significant debt it is making payments on. Dr. Kegler answered that the college has bond payments that total $1.4 to $1.5 million per year and they have been making payments. He said that the school is carrying too much debt and that they should be at about half of that. The current market isn’t a good time to refinance, and recent events have probably impacted the college’s credit standing.
Audience member Anne Dare asked how the college is navigating the salaries for faculty and staff. Dr. Kegler said there is a study every year that shows the salaries for other community colleges and FSCC has salaries at the lower end of the range. He said they need to get the salaries up, but the way to do that is to bring in more students. The college has lost 27% of the student population since 2018. The current numbers for this spring are 5.9% lower than it was a year ago, but with late start classes, he hoped they could get that to 3%.
The FSCC Nursing Program was previously one of the top ones in this area, but it is now on conditional approval which means that no new nursing students can be accepted. Dr. Kegler said that nursing is one of the top five career paths in the world.
He went on to talk about how the college is trying to make sure they are funding activities that will keep students engaged and enjoying their time here so other students will want to come.
Audience member Chad Cosens asked what the impact of the current situation was on athletics and if the college is looking at adding any new athletics programs. Dr. Kegler said 76% of the current athletes are from out of state and on scholarships. Therefore the majority of athletes are not students who are bringing in state funds. He said he wants strong athletics teams, but FSCC can’t keep the doors open through sports. He pointed out that when a coach leaves, the athletes that are from out of state don’t have ties to the local area and leave.
Cosens said he doesn’t see how a community college can get students without sports because the local draw of higher education isn’t very strong without it.
Dr. Kegler said that while he recognizes the role of athletics and doesn’t want to cut sports, he does want to be sustainable. He said that the school is doing things in the name of sports that don’t have a return on investment and the college can’t continue doing that.
He pointed out that the college has an athletic facility across town (that students can only get to if they have a car), but the school can’t find a building for technical education. He said that the return on investment in athletics is flat at a minimum.
An audience member suggested adding some current professional football players to the FSCC Hall of Fame to generate some good positive attention.
Attendee Katy Casper said that as a community member, she’d like to see an analysis of what programs bring people from out of state, to stay here in town and pay over $100,000 in property taxes a year. She pointed out that there are celebrities who have come here in the past, but we have people who came for rodeo and have stayed here in the community.
Dr. Kegler said it would appear that FSCC is a very athletic college based on past budgets. He said athletic programs have been the primary place where the college has spent money over the years.
Audience member Steve Williams said the community colleges cut their own throat by focusing on bringing in athletes from out of state.
The decision to move the conference that FSCC participates in, into Division 2, hurt programs like FSCC according to Dr. Kegler. With Division 2, they were only competing against other schools that could scholarship tuition and books whereas Division 1 could also pay for room and board and other expenses. He said more schools are recognizing that Division 1 isn’t sustainable for Kansas community colleges.
Audience member Jerry Witt said that the FSCC football alumni are looking for ways to get the college back on its feet, but that was the focus before looking for ways to bring football back.
Attendee Lindsey Madison said this afternoon a future student was looking for housing this summer and wondered what the occupancy was like on the FSCC housing. Kegler said the college has vacancies in the on-campus housing, but the on-campus students don’t have a way for students to cook for themselves other than the off-campus housing options. He said they are not planning to add any new housing at this time.
An audience member asked if the county and state money is going to give the college what it needs through 2024. Kegler said no it is not. The college is anticipating a deficit in April where they will not be able to make payroll. The college did receive a gift from the foundation to help, but even with the money that is coming in, FSCC will need to make cuts.