President Simmons announces job cuts in annual budget meeting

by Steffi Lee, Editor in Chief

Several Simpson College employees are losing their jobs and positions are being eliminated after the college reported a lower-than-expected enrollment last week, President Jay Simmons said.

He announced the job cuts to college employees in his annual budget meeting last week. A total of 15 positions at Simpson are affected through layoffs, job eliminations and reductions from full-time to part-time work. Students were not given an official notice of these changes or allowed in the meeting, but Simmons wrote an opinion piece for this week’s issue of The Simpsonian.

The meeting was also closed to The Simpsonian, but in a separate interview, Simmons said actions needed to be taken to balance the budget.

“We’ve seen our overall enrollment decrease in our traditional graduate day program over the last eight years a bit gradually,” Simmons said.

According to Simmons, in 2006 Simpson had 1,524 full-time undergraduate students. Right now, the college has 1,380, which includes international students.

“At the same time, our overall employment has increased by 36 full-time positions, so as enrollment has gone down, employment has gone up,” Simmons said.

The unbalance in enrollment and employment also ultimately creates an unequal budget.

“We’ve got to make sure our expenses match our revenues,” Simmons said.

He said the employment growth occurred because there was a growth in the Continuing and Graduate Programs, but this often happens only when the economy takes a downturn. While the economy is still experiencing a recovery mode, the improvements caused that division of the college to see less of a growth.

It’s not only Simpson that’s facing enrollment decreases. Colleges nationwide are reporting low numbers, specifically due to lower enrollments in two-year institutions, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Gazette reported Kirkwood Community College does have a decrease in enrollment compared to its numbers from the recession.

But there are colleges reporting record enrollment. Coe College, Dordt College, Iowa State University and Morningside College all reported increased enrollment growth.

The revised fiscal year 2015 budget is still in development, according to Ken Birkenholtz, vice president for Business & Finance. He said the board of trustees meets in Oct. 17 to finalize this, but due to budget shortfalls in revenue, there will be around a $400,000 deficit.

While Simpson is getting the new Pedestrian Plaza and improving buildings amidst budget changes, those funds don’t come from the same area. Salaries, paying utilities and financial aid discounting come from the annual operating budget.

“In any organization, either if it’s a for-profit business or a non-profit business like Simpson College, you typically have two sources of funds,” Simmons said.

The other source is the capital fund, where money is raised for purposes like the new fitness center.

Simmons said the budget meeting definitely raised concerns and even some opposition.

“It’s not anything any of us want to do, but we have to do it to make sure we maintain (Simpson) as a very robust, (financially stable) institution, which we are,” Simmons said. “We’ve made changes in Academic Affairs, we’ve taken advantage of a resignation that occurred a couple of weeks ago in the Advancement Office and reassigned some duties there.”

The layoffs also mean employees of the college can potentially get a raise in their salaries. He said in order to attract competitive faculty, the college needs to have competitive salaries.

“This will help us get to a position where we can pay people better,” he said.

Simmons cited privacy as a reason in declining to provide names of employees who were laid off.

However, former director of Career Services Jennifer del Pino said she was one who was laid off. Del Pino, a Simpson graduate, worked in Career Services for a little more than four years. She said it’s a difficult situation, but has a positive outlook despite the circumstances.

“Personally, it’s very important to maintain a positive attitude and I believe everyone is going to feel no matter what the circumstances, no matter the company or organization, you have to go through kind of a grieving process,” she said. “So you go through that anger, you go through that frustration, you go through the worry. Since this was purely a budget decision, I have no regrets, but I just want to maintain a positive attitude towards and connection with Simpson.”

Del Pino also holds a master’s degree in higher education and understands changes in education, both regulatory and in general, need to be made.

“I’m saddened by the fact that there are casualties in the process, but in the industry, that’s how it happens,” she said. “What I hope for both Simpson and education in general is that these changes will prompt positive change and will come out of all of this with some successes and some improvements in the whole system.

Simmons believes the improvements at Simpson will start with changed recruiting efforts. He said the college is looking at new marketing initiatives for the Continuing and Graduate Programs. They’re also making changes to accessibility for students so they have quicker access to what they need.

“We’re moving the Ankeny campus directly across from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) to a new development there called Prairie Trail,” he said. “We’re in close consultation about some bridge programs so as soon as a student up there receives an A.A. he or she can just literally walk across the street and start a degree completion with us at Simpson at Prairie Trail.”

Simmons said Simpson is working to improve financial aid packages for high-performing students who worry about private school costs.

With 23 percent of this year’s incoming class coming from out-of-state, he said he does have high hopes for more growth opportunities.

Simmons said the college can bounce back, despite the cuts in faculty and staff. He said he will continue to work with the students to make sure they don’t feel gaps during their time here.