Aiken tech to impose furlough

AIKEN -- Aiken Technical College will impose a three-day furlough next April following the most recent state budget cuts, ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor said Tuesday.

Hit by the same 7 percent cut, USC Aiken Chancellor Dr. Tom Hallman said the university has tapped into its reserve fund balance to stave off a furlough during the spring semester.

In the past six months, ATC has lost 24.4 percent of its state allocation. USCA has lost 23.5 percent of its state funds, which make up about one-third of its operating budget.

Both campuses had expected and planned for a 4 percent cut in the latest round, but the State Budget and Control Board called for the larger reduction last week.

The 7 percent cut was quite a surprise, said Winsor, who warned that the state could impose still another reduction in state allocations next spring.

"We have taken a proactive stance on our budgeting position," said Winsor. "As difficult as this decision is, we're pleased that the faculty and staff have accepted the furlough as a way to stay strong for our students. I want to thank them for the sacrifices they're making."

USCA had already gone into its fund balance after the 14.7 percent cut earlier this fall. Now the university will dig even deeper, Hallman said.

USCA had reduced its faculty part-timebudget for the sprin. Some staff people were hired with a temporary status and now will continue in that status. A total of 15 faculty positions that will be open were originally scheduled for the tenure track.

"Now we'll probably fill half through the tenure track, while the others will be full-time instructors or adjunct faculty," Hallman said. "Instructors do provide a genuine service for us, but terminally degreed faculty are the backbone of our degree programs. It makes it difficult to have programs that are robust and fully developed if we're not able to keep a good number of those people involved."

Ironically, Aiken Technical College is on its way to a record number of applicants this spring, said Winsor. The campus is needed more than ever to help prepare people for new or different careers, she said.

Many students depend on state lottery tuition assistance funds. While the current grant allocation is $900 per semester, Winsor said, the future is a concern. The technical college system is planning a rally on the State House grounds in Columbia on Jan. 27 to send a message to legislators that the lottery funds are critical.

"Because of those funds companies are able to hire qualified graduates who otherwise couldn't access higher education," said Winsor. "It's a good investment for the state."

When the S.C. General Assembly convenes for the 2009 session next month, Winsor hopes lawmakers will take up the topic of positioning the state to move out of this situation, acknowledging that it won't happen overnight. But she and Hallman agree that the funds that both institutions are losing now won't be replaced in the next budget or recovered over a period of several years.

All of the state's energy over the past five months have focused on making cuts and balancing the budget, Hallman said. As a result, the state doesn't appear to have an overarching vision. Higher education would like to part of a solution, he said.

"There's no decision for the future that doesn't include a better educated populace," Hallman said. "Somewhere along the line we have to come to some common ground. Where does the future lie? We have the lowest taxes of any state in the union as our means of selling ourselves."

-- Aiken Standard