GREENSBORO — Guilford College plans to cut 52 positions to close a $2 million budget deficit.

The private liberal arts school will eliminate 40 staff positions and 12 faculty jobs before the start of the fall semester, mostly through retirements and resignations.

The college’s president, Jane Fernandes, said Wednesday that most of the affected positions are not currently filled. Fewer than 20 Guilford employees will be laid off.

Fernandes said no academic programs or departments will be cut, and no tenured or tenure-track faculty members will lose their jobs.

“We’re in strong financial shape,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “Once we get to a balanced budget, we’ll be in very good shape to rebuild and move forward.”

The college is facing a $2 million budget deficit this year, largely because enrollment has declined for five straight years.

Enrollment peaked at nearly 2,400 traditional-age and adult students in 2009 and 2010. Since then, enrollment has dropped by about 600 students, or 25 percent. Hardest hit was the college’s adult education program, which has lost about 40 percent of its students since 2010.

Fernandes blamed much of the enrollment decline on the demise of a state program that awarded annual scholarships worth $1,850 to North Carolina residents who attended private in-state colleges.

“That blind-sided the campus, as I understand it,” Fernandes said. “We’re still recovering from that.”

As enrollment — and tuition revenues — fell, staffing levels barely changed. The college last fall had 360 full-time employees — just five fewer than it did in 2010.

During a series of on-campus meetings this month to talk about the college’s financial situation, Fernandes had to mollify faculty and staff members. Employees, who hadn’t had a pay raise in several years, were dismayed not only by the pending job cuts but also by news that several top administrators got retention bonuses in 2014 as former President Kent Chabotar retired.

In 2010, Chabotar and Guilford’s board of trustees arranged to pay several senior-level administrators one-time bonuses in hopes of keeping them at the college until Chabotar departed.

Faculty members discovered the retention bonuses by comparing salaries reported on IRS forms that colleges and other nonprofit entities are required to file each year.

Five senior-level administrators saw significant pay increases totalling about $120,000 in 2014, according to tax documents. Chabotar’s base salary grew by about $80,000 in 2014 because he received a previously announced deferred payment plan.

“This was a whole bunch of money being paid to people who make a lot more than we were,” said Dave Dobson, a professor of geology and earth sciences and clerk of Guilford’s faculty. The retention bonuses, he added, “seemed not to be for something we thought was necessary.”

Earlier this month, faculty members passed a resolution calling for a more fair and transparent salary policy for all employees and a living wage for the lowest-paid workers.

Fernandes said she supports that concept and will work with the college community to develop a new compensation system over the next year. She also said she plans to cut the number of senior staff members and apply those salary savings to raising the wages of low-paid workers.

Dobson said employees have appreciated the candor from Fernandes and Ed Winslow, the new chairman of the college’s board of trustees and a Greensboro attorney.

“I think they have been relatively open and are willing to work with us,” Dobson said. “That’s a good thing that will come out of this.”

With the job cuts, Fernandes said she expects to start the 2015-16 academic year with a balanced budget. The college has little debt, and enrollment is projected to remain steady for next year.

Fernandes said Guilford College will expand student recruitment efforts to Colorado and the West Coast, two areas where it traditionally hasn’t sought students. The college will launch a new creative writing program this fall and is the early stages of developing a master’s degree program in criminal justice. Guilford has not offered an advanced degree since the 1970s.

Fernandes said she wants to strengthen the Center for Continuing Education, the college’s adult education program. A task force will look at new academic programs and ways to help adult students get their degrees more quickly.

The college will improve marketing and enrollment efforts for the college’s traditional and adult programs. Fernandes wants to increase enrollment eventually by about 200 students.

Balancing the budget, however, comes first, and she said she’s confident that will happen by the fall.

“Once I get a balanced budget, I intend to keep it balanced,” Fernandes said. “Have no fear. I don’t want to go through this again.”

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

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