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Business Officer Magazine
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Spiraling Enrollment Outpaces Space, Resources

Spotlight: Community Colleges, from "Business Briefs" department in October 2010 issue of Business Officer

Like many of our peer institutions, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) system experienced tremendous growth in recent years, with a 33 percent increase in the number of full-time equivalent students from 2006 to 2010. The trend has brought welcome revenues to a funding model based on diminishing state support.

But, booming enrollment has its challenges. Growth must be managed efficiently or it can lead to poor customer service, lower-quality education, frustrated employees, and higher turnover because of overwork.

We've learned that we must react wisely in managing our resources while we develop and implement other plans that make the institution more streamlined and efficient.

Stretched Resources and Services

Some of the increased costs to support higher enrollment, of course, come in the areas of administrative support and student services. Financial aid and cashiering offices were inundated with requests for help and directions, in part because of the larger volume of financial aid and payments to be processed. The back office experienced a similar increase in transactions related to everything from checks and collections to a higher volume of parking tickets.

Other areas, such as campus safety, required us to modify emergency plans and safety strategies to accommodate the increased student population. Similarly, technology services have been in great demand.

They've Come, Now Build It

Space becomes the deal breaker when a growing volume of students and faculty need not only classrooms and laboratories but also study and recreation areas, parking, support offices, and even warehouse space. Last year we developed a database of existing space throughout the six campuses, which allowed us to evaluate the way changes in classroom setup, timing of classes, and particular use of the space can increase the net availability.

Near-term tactics. To satisfy immediate needs, we took some specific actions:

  • Revised class schedules and made better use of existing space. Spreading start times of classes more evenly throughout the day and week helped us accommodate new class sections as well as relieve some of the demand for parking on our suburban campuses. The various campuses have handled schedules differently; Reston Center started classes earlier in the morning to accommodate the needs of people who attend class before going to work. Overall, more classes are being offered in the evenings, on weekends, and online. 
  • Leased additional space when necessary. In the past four years, we've acquired approximately 80,000 square feet of new classroom and academic space near our campuses to accommodate credit programs and workforce development initiatives. The additional space has increased our leasing costs by 115 percent.

Long-term logistics. NOVA leadership is pushing ahead with aggressive plans to accommodate future growth, including:

  • Additional space. We'll be completing 200,000 square feet of new construction within the next two years. Based on growth estimates of 5 percent a year, we've also requested permission from the state to add another 800,000 square feet of new and renovated space between now and 2015.
  • Transportation options. Along with plans to develop more parking capacity, we're discussing alternative transportation methods and efforts to change faculty, staff, and student commuting habits.
  • Classroom efficiency. We're developing plans to change and standardize room layouts to increase space efficiency and reduce setup costs for classrooms and laboratories.

As the space needs grow, we're looking to our foundation, new revenue sources, and some rebalancing through budget allocations to accommodate necessary expansion. Well-managed and -planned growth is the cornerstone for achieving our goal of serving our expanding student and faculty population.

SUBMITTED BY Miguel Angel Garcia, vice president of finance and administration, Northern Virginia Community College system