Columbia College bucks trend in tough economic times

Friday, September 18, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As the difficult economic climate continues to have lingering effects, schools have been forced to cut costs and implement layoffs. But despite some economic setbacks, Columbia College has been able to buck that trend.

Speaking Thursday at Launer Auditorium, Columbia College President Gerald Brouder gave his state-of-the-college address. Topics included the school’s ability to stay above water during the recession and the continued growth in its use of technology.

After thanking the large audience for attending, Brouder’s speech started on a somber note. Brouder said the college lost $8.2 million in market investments in the last year, about one-fifth of a $43 million endowment.

The recession also reduced requests for on-campus housing. Brouder said the college has the fewest number of students living in residence halls in four years. Brouder added that this has dampened the college’s enthusiasm for construction of a new residence hall.

Yet despite these setbacks, Columbia College was able to avoid any type of hiring freeze or layoffs. Because of significant growth in the Adult Higher Education division, the college was able to hire new faculty members and even give some members of its staff a raise.

“We had to hire, be it faculty members or financial-aid staff, because of the growth we have seen,” said Mike Randerson, vice president for Adult Higher Education.    

“Ninety percent of the students in AHE are working adults or stay-at-home mom and dads,” Randerson added.  “The average age in our program is 31, but we are seeing growth in younger people.”

The program is labeled “adult” because the education sessions are offered in eight-week sessions five times a year and are mostly at night, Randerson said.   

During the last academic year, 14,500 of the 15,600 students who attend Columbia College — which comprises 34 campuses in 13 states, including Guantanamo Bay and an online community — were enrolled in the adult division.  

Randerson said Columbia College saw an 8 percent growth last year in students taking adult classes. Because of this fact and that 88 percent of the college’s tuition revenue comes from the adult program, Columbia College ran a surplus last year, despite the economy.  

In his speech, Brouder focused on the importance of technology.

“I believe it is safe to say that Columbia College has the most modern, technologically up-to-date classrooms when compared with our peers and many of our competitors,” Brouder said. “Technology permeates the organization.”  

Brouder spoke about document-imaging, the process of taking paper files and turning them into digital records. Once completed, this project will save thousands of dollars in storage fees and will improve efficiency, he said.

Brouder also has proposed constructing a new science building, which will have state-of-the-art computer technology and science equipment.

Columbia College also was able to maintain its contribution to retirement funds and has remained debt-free. 

“I can assure you that in this instance we are far ahead of many institutions, both private and public,” Brouder said.


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