Cowley College will conduct a study to determine the profitability of its satellite locations in Winfield, Mulvane and Wichita, after a college trustee questioned the benefit of having such a large area footprint while the actual campuses have plenty of room for more students.
Trustee Gary Wilson said he wants to see a full accounting of the direct and indirect costs for facilities at those three locations, along with a total enrollment head count.
“I want it based on what we take in against what we’re paying out,” he said.
Other trustees didn’t necessary agree with Wilson’s questioning of the need for those locations, but the board agreed to have the college conduct a study, due back in November.
Wilson said several citizens had expressed concerns about the operating cost for the three centers and questioned the need for them.
He said the main campus in Ark City and the new Sumner County campus in Wellington both have room for more students.
Numbers provided by the college shows Ark City campus enrollment stands at 1,045, compared to 1,077 last fall.
The Sumner County campus has 128 students, a huge gain of 85 students because general education classes were added just this semester to technical classes that started last year.
College spokesman Rama Peroo said the Sumner campus met its enrollment goal for this semester.
The Mulvane IT location increased from 45 students to 53; Mulvane Bloomenshine dropped 30 students to 228 students; the Wichita downtown site was at 74 students and Winfield at 95, both changed only slightly from the previous year.
Attracting students has been an ongoing struggle in recent years at Cowley, which has seen the largest drop in full-time equivalent students among all 19 Kansas community colleges in the past five years through 2018.
Wilson suggested that elimination of the satellite locations in Wichita, Winfield and Mulvane could increase enrollment at the Wellington and Ark City campuses.
“One thing it will do is increase the head count at both places,” he said. “The other thing, it will eliminate us spending money on these satellite facilities.”
For example, he said, one of the Mulvane locations needs a new roof for $300,000, but it might be wiser to spend that money on supplies and equipment at a newer facility.
“I’d like to look at that,” he said. “The only way to do that is with board approval.”
Trustee Jolynn Foster said Wilson’s request was valid, but she did not believe that students from the satellite locations would enroll at Wellington, which does not have dormitories for students to live in.
“They’re not going to go. They’re not going to drive to Wellington to go to school,” Foster said.
Foster said a study of this nature needs to also include what it would cost the college in lost enrollment if the facility was to close.
“Well, we need to base that on what it’s costing us,” Wilson replied.
College President Dr. Dennis Rittle said there are other factors to consider.
The state reimburses Cowley for any Kansas student who attends Cowley outside of Cowley County.
He said that reimbursement totals about $8.2 million each year.
“The state says we don’t just serve Cowley County,” he said. “We must also serve our entire service area.”
Rittle said based on what the Ark City campus generates, plus the mil levy it receives, it could not stand on its own.
He said the board should look the various locations and whether they stand on their own financially. Rittle said it would be very eye opening.
“But I will let you know, the state expects us to support our service area, that’s why they support us with those dollars,” he said. “That’s why we get state dollars.”
Rittle said the Wichita location generates a lot of enrollment for the college. He said the center was not set up around creating coursework, but as an intake center to acquire students from Sedgwick County.
That facility also creates a strong brand presence for Cowley, which would be lost if the center was to close.
“I’ll use a simple phrase — if you are out of sight, you are out of mind — you might as well not exist,” he said.
Wilson argued that drawing students from Sedgwick County to the Cowley or Sumner County campus would still be supporting students from the college’s service area.
“If they are going to our facility in Wichita, and we move that facility to Ark City or Wellington and they still come, we’re still servicing our area,” he contended.
Rittle added that pulling out of an area can create a feeling of mistrust. He said that was a major obstacle when Cowley sought to establish a campus in Wellington, which Sumner County voters eventually approved through a sales tax increase.
“The number one complaint I fielded as I went to every village and every town was, ‘You guys tried to do something but you weren’t very trustworthy because you guys didn’t stay,’” he said.
And students in Mulvane, he said, were concerned the college would abandon that site after the Wellington campus opened.
Wilson, said his main concern was whether the college was receiving enough payback for the dollars being spent to operate at those locations.
“I’m saying that maybe there is a better way to do it,” he said. “The only way we’re going to know is to find out what the costs are.”
Trustee Bob Juden said he had no problem authorizing a study, but he would find it difficult to support closing of any of those facilities.
“It’d take a lightening strike to get me to pull out of any of those places,” he said.
The board unanimously approved the study. Vice President of Finance Gloria Walker will complete the research for a presentation to the board in November.