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Ridgewater announces carpentry program is suspended

WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College plans to suspend its second-year carpentry program and to reduce and revamp its counseling services in preparing for expected budget shortfalls in the next fiscal year.

The result is the loss of four full-time employees at the Willmar and Hutchinson campuses.

The college expects to have a budget deficit of nearly $3 million at the end of fiscal year 2012, a result of cuts caused by state budget deficits. The college is currently in fiscal year 2011, which will end on June 30, 2011.

"Obviously the projected shortfall is an estimate; and enrollment, contract settlements and legislative decisions will all have an impact on our final budget," Ridgewater President Douglas Allen said in a news release Tuesday.

Nearly three-quarters of the college's $32 million general fund budget is allocated to personnel expenses, Allen said in the release. The college has made numerous cuts in non-personnel budgets and used financial reserves to address budget cuts in recent years, but some of those options have been exhausted.

"We are doing everything in our power to maintain programs and services to students," Allen said.

The decision to close the second-year carpentry program comes after a five-year trend of declining enrollment, according to the release. Enrollment declined along with the availability of construction industry jobs.

The college will redesign and maintain its first-year carpentry program. The second-year program could be revived if demand increases in the future.

Counseling services will be reduced, and the resources will be reallocated to strengthen academic advising and other student support services.

Low enrollment in theatre courses on the Hutchinson campus mean the campus can no longer support a full-time position in that area.

"Making these types of decisions is extremely difficult," Allen said.

"These are not just Ridgewater employees; they are people -- our colleagues, neighbors and friends who have dedicated themselves to the institution and its students."

Other budget decisions in recent years have included offering an early retirement incentive package to employees last year (using federal stimulus money), not filling positions vacated by retirement or resignation and cutting non-personnel budgets by nearly 10 percent.

"Additional changes will likely need to be made as the year progresses and more information is known about the extent of budget reductions," Allen said. "Our goal is to make strategic budget decisions that support initiatives that improve the quality, competitiveness and efficiency of the college and its core instructional programs and essential services for students."

Ridgewater College is a community and technical college with campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson. It serves more than 5,800 students in nearly 100 programs.