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Brittany Keesling of Buffalo, left, and Christi Mogler of Danvers work on design projects Wednesday during their computer art and publishing class at Ridgewater College's Willmar campus. The college has announced the computer art and publishing program will end this year, the victim of low enrollment and budget issues. Tribune photo by Ron Adams
Brittany Keesling of Buffalo, left, and Christi Mogler of Danvers work on design projects Wednesday during their computer art and publishing class at Ridgewater College's Willmar campus. The college has announced the computer art and publishing program will end this year, the victim of low enrollment and budget issues. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Budgetary, enrollment issues force Willlmar, Minn., college to end computer art, publishing program

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The computer art and publishing program at Ridgewater College in Willmar will close at the end of this school year. The program is a victim of budget cuts and low enrollment. The closing was announced by the college in a news release Wednesday morning.

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College President Douglas Allen said the school's state appropriation was cut about 10 percent in the fiscal year that began July 1. That translates into a loss of about $1.5 million.

The state's public higher education institutions have seen appropriations decrease in recent years because of state budget deficits. This is the fourth year running that Ridgewater has seen a decrease in funding, Allen said.

Ridgewater is a public community and technical college with campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson. It has about 6,000 students studying in more than 100 programs.

"In the past, we may not have been forced to cut this program," Allen said, but with the current budget situation, waiting for enrollment to rebound wasn't an option.

School officials have tried to make cuts in ways that did not affect students, but that's more and more difficult as the budget gets tighter.

"This cut impacts students," because they have to change their plans, he said. "I'd prefer not to be doing that."

The college is working with students in the program to explore other options.

Students in the second year of the two-year program will be able to finish their classes and graduate in the spring, said Sam Bowen, the college's marketing director.

School officials are working with first-year students individually to explore their options. One full-time staff position will be lost as a result of the program closing.

Bowen said the students do have some options if they want to stay in Willmar or stay at Ridgewater.

They could graduate from Ridgewater with a degree by substituting comparable courses. Ridgewater's Hutchinson campus has a multimedia design program, and the classes would be available online.

Depending on their interests, the students could move into other programs at Ridgewater, like photography or computer-aided drafting and design.

Another option would be to transfer to another campus in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system that offers a program similar to the one being closed.

"The biggest key is we're working with students on a one-to-one basis to find the best option," he said. "We're trying to meet each student's needs."

Several diplomas and degrees will be affected by the program closing, including the computer art and publishing diploma and AAS degree, computer publishing diploma and technical illustration diploma and AAS degree.

Other cuts large and small have been made in recent years. Over the past few years, departments have been asked to reduce spending wherever they could, and employees who retired or resigned have not been replaced in many cases.

"We have maintained most of our programs," Allen said.

The college suspended the second year of its carpentry program a year ago, citing a lack of enrollment and a lack of industry demand. The carpentry curriculum was revamped, and the second year of the program could be revived if demand increases.

Also in 2010, the college announced plans to reduce and revamp its counseling services.

The small business management program on the Willmar campus also closed at the end of 2009-10 school year. School officials said other programs in the area offered similar services.

Some programs on the Ridgewater campus have seen an increased demand.

The school has reworked its welding curriculum to respond to industry needs, Allen said, and there's a demand in the workforce for the college's graduates.

The agriculture programs are growing and in need of more space.

Allen said he would be making that point next week when state Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, visits. She is the chair of the senate's Capital Investment Committee. The college has had a building project to address its agriculture program needs before the Legislature for several years.

The first phase was approved and finished already, but the second phase has been stalled. It was included in a bonding bill in 2010, but was removed in a line-item veto by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. This year, the project was not in the final version of the bonding bill.

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