NWF State tries to deal with budget cuts

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By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn | hosbourne@nwfdailynews.com

NICEVILLE — Significant changes are coming to Northwest Florida State College as it works to recover from a half-million dollar cut to its state funding. 

NWF State is among 28 state colleges preparing to begin the academic school year with $25 million less than last year’s budget.

President Devin Stephenson said the cut to college state funding, in addition to the Florida Legislature’s elimination of more than $13 million in projects and school spending, is forcing NWF State to reduce staff, sacrifice programs and change its academic design.

“It’s difficult to do what you want to do and need to do in the face of constant budget cuts,” Stephenson said. 

The college, in an effort to compensate for the loss of funding, has already saved $680,000 by “right-sizing” and removing staff and administrative positions, according to Stephenson. The college has also made “significant” cuts to services and programs, he said. 

“We no longer have our director of advising position and we’ve cut our IT staff almost in half,” he said. “We made cuts throughout the entire institution, but it was mostly personnel. We’re just going to have to do more with less.”

The “more with less,” Stephenson said, will be to make the Niceville campus’ student success service and leadership teams mobile, traveling to NWF State’s five other campuses across the Panhandle.

“Right now, we’re looking at a 21 percent increase in enrollment for our fall term,” Stephenson said. “So now I have to think about how we’re going to deal with an increase in students and centralize services.”

Stephenson stressed that he does not plan to raise student tuition to offset costs. Instead, he said he will focus on “keeping costs low and operating efficiently.” 

“We have been able to keep tuition flat for the past five to seven years,” he said. “We’re not putting the cost of the institution on the backs of the parents and students.”

The president said despite the college’s current challenges, plans for new programs have already begun.

Stephenson said he recently met with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to propose a Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts Program, based at a new campus at Destin Commons. 

“The FRLA are desperately crying for individuals in the hospitality and culinary arts programs,” he said. “We want to create an event space that our students can use as a laboratory there that would serve more than 200 people.” 

Prerequisites for the Hospitality Management will begin this fall at the Niceville campus. The culinary side of the program will begin fall of 2018.

Stephenson said he has received a $25,000 scholarship endowment and a $100,000 gift for the hospitality management program. He said he is also working to receive a seven-figure donation for the culinary program, he said. 

In Walton County, Stephenson said he hopes to create a program that will train utility workers all across the Southeast. He said the program will be on a 5-acre simulated city where students can learn how to manage wastewater, electricity, gas and solar power. 

“It would be a city of tiny houses that will be the residential community,” Stephenson said. “It will create apprenticeships and internships for the utility companies.”

Finally, in Crestview, the college plans to open its Airframe and Powerplant Certification Program, where students can earn an associate’s degree.

In all, the programs are estimated to cost $30 million, Stephenson said. He said he hopes to fund the programs through the Triumph Gulf Coast fund. 

“What we can do to create jobs is to seek funding through Triumph Gulf Coast and be extremely accountable and responsible for it,” Stephenson said. “Our role as a college is to create jobs that are in high demand that will create a family-sustainable wage for our students.”

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