trees 050612 sign

Centuries-old tree leaves provide shelter along the entrance to Guilford College, where trees play a prominent role on the signs and banners at its campus in Greensboro, NC on May 1, 2012. (H. Scott Hoffmann/ news-record)

GREENSBORO — Guilford College is once again facing a budget deficit because of a sharp drop in enrollment, especially among adult students.

Three years after the private liberal arts college laid off 16 employees to balance its budget, Guilford is running a budget deficit of about $2 million this year.

Jane Fernandes, who became Guilford’s president July 1, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that she expects the college’s deficit could be about the same in the 2015-16 academic year.

Fernandes told faculty members and other employees Wednesday about the extent of the college’s fiscal problems and how she plans to deal with them.

“The college’s current expenditures don’t fit current and planned enrollment,” she said. “We need to bring things to where we’re living inside our means.”

In 2012, Guilford resorted to layoffs to close a $1 million budget deficit. The college covered a $350,000 shortfall in 2013-14 by diverting money meant for campus renovations.

Guilford trustees approved a plan in October to let the college borrow against a line of credit to cover operating expenses. Fernandes said the college hasn’t done that. Instead, she has elected to leave most vacant positions unfilled.

“I’m being very careful about whether to fill positions,” she said. “More often then not, we’re not filling it.”

Cutting by attrition will continue into the 2015-16 academic year, Fernandes said. She added that there are no plans to lay off employees this academic year, but could potentially happen the next year.

The college employs about 400 people. That number has changed only a little in the past 10 years.

Enrollment, however, has declined sharply, and this loss of students has led to a loss of tuition revenues that pay for employee salaries and other day-to-day operating costs.

Since 2009, when Guilford had about 2,800 students, enrollment has declined by about 700 students, or nearly 25 percent.

The biggest drop has come from the loss of adult students enrolled in the Center for Continuing Education, which dates to 1947 and is the oldest adult bachelor’s degree programs in the state.

Fernandes said the college hired additional faculty and staff members several years ago in hopes of making the adult education program much bigger. Enrollment peaked in 2010 at 1,316 adult learners. By this fall, however, enrollment in adult education programs was down by nearly 40 percent to 820 students.

Fernandes puts part of the blame of the demise of the N.C. Legislative Tuition Grant, which gave an annual $1,850 scholarship to each North Carolina resident — regardless of financial need — who attended a private college in the state. The General Assembly, facing a budget crisis of its own, eliminated the grant program in 2012.

Fernandes said the college plans to review the adult education program to make sure it’s offering the right courses at the right time of day for working adults. The college will look at course delivery options, such as more online offerings.

Fernandes said Guilford won’t grow its way out of its fiscal situation anytime soon. Enrollment projections for next year show little to no growth in the adult and traditional-age student populations.

She said Guilford plans to hire two new vice presidents — one for marketing and one to manage enrollment, a job that involves recruiting and retaining students.

“I think they will be able to strengthen our systems,” she said.

Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the enrollment change in the college's adult education programs. 

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