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Automotive Program Downsizing and Reduction in Force Used to Cut Costs

The automotive program at UCC is being downsized. Voted by the UCC board of education at the May 13 board meeting, the one year automotive program will remain in place and the Toyota T-Ten and two year automotive degree will be canceled.

“This comes from the decrease in enrollment, increase in costs for full time equivalents (FTE) and the decline in need for associate degree students in the automotive program,” Debra Thatcher, UCC president, said. “It is a painful thing to downsize but the auto program is not going away. We feel we will still be able to meet the industry needs by having a one year certificate.”

Several prominent figures in the local automotive industry wrote letters to Thatcher asking that the program be maintained. “I understand as a business operator that situations arise when a prudent manager must look to all goods and services in the organization to analyze their sustainability,” David Weir, general manager of Mobile Tune in Roseburg, wrote. “I would hope that the automotive program at UCC will be considered a necessary program to assist both the local and regional needs of an increasingly complex industry.”

Downsizing the automotive program raised concerns among local automotive industry leaders, who see adequate training and qualifications as key to an automotive technician’s employability.

“Technicians must now have a comprehensive knowledge of who to decipher data and reach conclusions based on that information to accurately diagnose many vehicle issues. This leads the industry to seek out individuals who will meet the needs of the ever-changing complexity of newer vehicles,” Weir wrote. “Therefore, a good program in place with comprehensive education and certifications is such a benefit to our industry.”

The downsizing comes as a part of UCC’s effort to adapt to rapid changes in funding and enrollment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While enrollment levels change each week due to GED and adult student basic education, as of May 13 UCC has seen a 16% decrease in FTE when compared to winter term. FTE is the number of full time student equivalents enrolled. For example, two half time students equal one full time equivalent.

“The decrease in FTE enrollment is spread around,” Thatcher said. “We’ve seen FTE decreases in associate of arts transfer programs and career and technical programs. Part of the drop in CTE was due to some courses, such as welding or dental assisting, that had to be moved to summer because of the large amount of face-to-face time required.”

Not only has enrollment dropped significantly, but because of the widespread economic impact of COVID-19, UCC is also facing a significant cut in funding from the state. “UCC is expecting a reduction in state funding of at least 20% for the next year,” Thatcher said. “The decrease in enrollment and state funding have together created a $3.5 million budget shortfall for UCC.”

In addition to downsizing the automotive program, Thatcher requested and received permission from the UCC board to plan a reduction in force. A reduction in force involves reducing the number of positions and personnel within an organization through layoffs. Any significant changes to UCC’s budget, such as a reduction in force, must be approved by the board, as was done at the May 13 board meeting. Both the planning for a reduction of force and the actual reduction must be authorized by the board and then approved.

“83% of UCC’s general fund, which is the money that comes from taxes, tuition and fees and state funding, goes toward personnel. If we have to cut $3.5 million from our budget, there is no way we can do that without looking at personnel,” Thatcher said. “Personnel is not the first place we looked to cut costs. We started with looking at projects that we could postpone and then looked at positions that we had that are currently empty and that we don’t need to fill. Ultimately, however, it does come down to needing to eliminate some positions.”

The positions being eliminated will involve all areas of campus, including staff, administrators and faculty. Because there are several positions that are open and will not be filled, only a few positions will be eliminated, according to Thatcher.

Given the uncertain future surrounding COVID-19, UCC is planning on the repercussions of the pandemic lasting at least three years. However, if things change earlier than that timeline, UCC will adapt. “If our funding is better and enrollment is strong, then we will be able to think differently and adjust our budget accordingly,” Thatcher said.

If administrator positions are eliminated in a reduction in force, anyone looking to come back to that position at UCC would need to re-apply and follow normal hiring procedures. However, there are some recall opportunities for faculty, which means that if a position opens and a past faculty member who was let go during a reduction in force is qualified for the open position they are first in line.

“This recall option is sort of the saving grace in this reduction in force,” Thatcher says. “If things do turn around we have options for people who have been let go to be re-employed.”

“It is really unfortunate to have to eliminate some positions. In making decisions we have been mindful of where UCC is headed strategically, what duties can be let go for a while, reorganized, or done in a different way, and being sure that we are minimizing the impact on students,” Thatcher said. “We try to keep students in the forefront of all our decision making. Our priorities are getting students here, helping them be successful, helping them finish a program and move on.”

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