Some things are unavoidable in the COVID era. One, unfortunately, is the announcement last week that community colleges owned by the State University of New York, including Columbia-Greene Community College, will cut administrative jobs and staff to offset revenue losses caused by the pandemic as executives proposed slashing $46 million over two years.

Officials project a $39 billion revenue loss over four years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including losses of $11.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2021 and $9.8 billion in 2022.

But this is only half the story.

Overall, SUNY’s enrollment is down 5.3% year-over-year, but enrollment decline in state universities and community colleges has been an issue for the past decade. State colleges and universities are not strangers to job cuts and deficits. The economic hardships they are experiencing today are sharpened by COVID. This did not start with the virus.

Columbia-Greene Community College seems better equipped to handle this adversity. The college did not eliminate student programs or services. College President Carlee Drummer is steadfast in her desire to hold on and avoid dropping services and programs. Drummer agrees the projected budget reductions to statewide community colleges comes on the heels of enrollment decline that preceded the pandemic.

Still, Drummer is a realist. Columbia-Greene, one of SUNY’s 30 community college campuses, has experienced a 20% enrollment decline in the last four years with 983 students in fall 2020, down from 1,232 students in the fall of 2016.

Non-credit students are not counted in the tally.

“That’s a precipitous decline,” Drummer said. “There’s a population decline of dramatic proportions not just in New York, it’s all over the country, and we’ve all been feeling the pinch of that. And then the pandemic hit, so that’s the perfect storm, quite honestly.”

Even in the time of a pandemic, it’s essential to keep Columbia-Greene and other community colleges going as COVID limits educational opportunities. Without the programs and courses offered by Columbia-Greene or teachers to instruct students, all the work that went into training thousands of men and women for jobs and careers will be for nothing. It’s a perfect storm, indeed.

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