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SUNY Potsdam battles $2.8 million deficit

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam is facing a $2.8 million budget deficit, and the college is searching for any way to close the gap.

Administrators and members of the college council examined their options at a meeting Friday.

With cash reserves dwindling, the college has already instituted a freeze on hiring, with a delay of six months to hire staff and one year to hire faculty. All hires must be approved by the President’s Council.

Most of the deficit, about $1.7 million, comes from a shortfall in tuition. Fewer students are enrolling, meaning less tuition money to go around.

This is a region-wide problem, caused by a drop in the number of high school graduates, and it won’t get better in the near future.

“The bad news is, this coming year, 2013-2014, is going to be a particularly low year,” said Bruce C. Brydges, the college’s Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Enrollment Management.

SUNY Potsdam had a total of 4,056 students as of Friday. This is 176 less than last year, and 356 less than the year before.

High school graduation rates are not expected to bounce back until 2017. In the meantime, SUNY Potsdam is looking for ways to get new students and keep them around.

To that end, interim President Dennis L. Hefner has created the enrollment management committee, a group of college administrators tasked with coming up with new ways to recruit and retain students. The ultimate goal is to have a total enrollment of 5,000.

Part of the plan is to look overseas to boost the college’s number of international attendees. Dr. Hefner is in talks with schools in South Korea and Turkey with an aim to start bringing some of their students to Potsdam in 2015.

The college will also create more graduate programs to draw even more students. It will soon begin offering a master’s degree in Community Health, SUNY Potsdam’s first master of science degree offering. Their current graduate degrees are all master of arts or master of science in education degrees, but this new program will allow the creation of more graduate degrees in a wider variety of fields.

“That was a really nice step forward for the campus,” Dr. Hefner said.

Administrators are also looking to eliminate any unnecessary positions to cut costs. This will be done mostly through attrition and reassignments, rather than layoffs, according to Mr. Hefner.

“We don’t want to get caught up in layoffs,” he said.

As positions deemed unnecessary become vacant they will be eliminated, and staff members may be moved from unnecessary positions to fill vacancies in necessary ones.

According to Mr. Hefner, this is already happening. A special projects coordinator working in the president’s office was reassigned to a vacant staff position, and her former job was eliminated.

“It was nice to have someone doing that, but it was a luxury,” Mr. Hefner said. “We can’t afford luxuries right now.”

The college hopes these efforts will lead to $1.5 million in savings by the end of the academic year.

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