Enrollment at Southern Maine Community College will increase by 10 percent in September, a record number as more high school graduates and laid-off workers seek vocational training in the tight job market.

SMCC President James Ortiz said Monday that up to 6,300 students are expected to attend the South Portland college in September, with health-sciences, technology and distance-learning classes filling fast.

The dramatic increase in students at the two-year college is a result, in part, of several factors relating to the economy, Ortiz noted.

• More students are opting to attend less costly community colleges that are closer to home.

• High school graduates are heading to community college for training after failing to find employment.

• Laid-off workers are seeking to re-train in new fields, as traditional employers downsize or go out of business.

“There is the realization that many jobs that are being lost are not coming back,” Ortiz said. “People are trying to learn new skills to prepare them for the future.”

At the same time, a reduction in state appropriations for SMCC has led to a projected $680,000 gap in the $35 million spending plan for fiscal year 2009-10.

Ortiz said he has restricted travel, centralized purchasing, slashed capital improvements, and reduced spending by 5 percent on college programs.

He also cut staff by two positions. A full-time academic counselor and full-time receptionist lost their jobs in April.

Ortiz said his goal has been to maintain the quality of academic programs.

Increased enrollment, which has brought in more tuition and fees, has helped to soften the blow of spending cuts at the college.

Tuition for next school year will be up 2.4 percent for Maine residents, from $82 to $84 per credit.

But Ortiz also noted that there are costs associated with more students enrolling, including for faculty and to support programs.

“We’re in an interesting situation, because the state is having difficulty and revenues have gone down, but more people are coming to college, which has helped us to avoid more severe problems,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz added that he has tried to keep the focus on providing a quality education to Mainers.

“When we look at the budget, our highest priority is the education that we provide to our people,” he said. “We quickly determined that academic areas were not to be impacted and the faculty was not to be impacted.”

He noted that SMCC also is in line for about $1 million in federal stimulus money, but it cannot be applied to educational services, under the terms set by Congress.

Instead, the federal money may be used on capital improvements to buildings to make them more energy efficient and less costly to operate. Ortiz said the college has a long list of upgrades it hopes to make.

SMCC employs 106 full-time faculty members and 139 administrative and support staff members.

Ortiz noted that the state Legislature is still grappling with how to fill its own budget gap, which is $350 million higher than originally anticipated.

He said he is hoping revenues will not drop further.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.