Budget-cutting Mesa State still big engine of area economy
Mesa State College’s place in the economic grand scheme is twofold but contradictory.
On one hand, the college is tightening its belt in the face of slashed state support. With the economy shedding jobs, Mesa State is re-examining where resources are devoted to ensure it gears its programs to job opportunities for graduates.
On the other, Mesa State is still a powerhouse for the Western Slope in uncertain economic times.
The college generated an estimated $225 million in regional economic impact for the fiscal year 2007–08, thanks to money spent by the college on construction projects and what its students and employees spend for living expenses.
At the same time, President Tim Foster said, the college is facing a reduction in state funding by $923,000 in the 2008–09 budget and $1.6 million in the 2009–10 budget.
The college has identified more than $2 million in budget cuts in reaction to the state funding reduction, Foster said, which includes streamlining fiscal, student and academic services, reducing travel and reducing an employee bonus performance plan.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment projects several industries to increase in Grand Junction through 2016, including construction management, projected to grow by 73.8 percent; nursing by 42.4 percent; and mechanical engineering by 41.2 percent.
For these industries, Mesa State has added programs to meet the need, such as a degree in mechanical engineering, which is offered in partnership with the University of Colorado, a degree in construction management and expanded programs in nursing.
The Grand Junction Economic Partnership ranked the college, with 1,267 employees, as the third-largest employer in the area in 2008.
The board of trustees committed to giving college employees an inflationary pay increase this year, and Foster said he doesn’t believe in furloughs or freezing salaries despite the budget constraints.
Ultimately, Foster said, the college may have to look at increasing tuition to make good on those commitments, and he anticipates state support will continue to decrease.
About 49 percent of Mesa State’s funding comes from the state general fund and 51 percent from tuition. Foster said in the “foreseeable future,” he estimates that proportion to be closer to 60 percent tuition and 40 percent state support.