By Christopher Smith
Many people seem to know what’s best for Dalton State College. Some say more parking is needed; others say more dorm rooms or more student activity options are a must.
Getting to Dalton State President John Schwenn’s ear doesn’t have much to do with meeting such needs, he said. That’s because very few decisions go forward without approval from the 19 members of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.
Schwenn spoke about the state of the college to the Kiwanis Club of Dalton Monday afternoon at the trade center. At the same time, students filled the trade center parking lots because they couldn’t find any spots on the cramped campus nearby. Schwenn said he would like more parking, too, and has requested funding from the Board of Regents to help grow Dalton State.
The regents, appointed by the governor, come from all over the state and meet in Atlanta at least once a month to approve new academic programs and college buildings. They also decide how to split state dollars among 31 colleges.
“Our students get upset that they don’t have a parking space in front of the building where they have class,” Schwenn said. “Every single pot of money we get has to go to specific things. A lot of people would like us to put it into parking, (but) we’re funded by the board.”
The Board of Regents is the reason an expansion of student housing got nixed last year, Schwenn said. College officials wanted to create some kind of dorms, though a location was never finalized, instead of using a nearby apartment complex to house students, as is done now.
Schwenn said board members weren’t convinced of the need or the timing. Dalton Sate has been losing students since 2010 when it had 5,988 enrolled. This year, school officials are expecting 4,900 to 5,000 students after drop-add week wraps up.
Schwenn said the college had to turn away 200 would-be students this year due to a more rigorous acceptance policy. Prospective students are required to have a minimum SAT verbal/critical reading score of 430 and mathematics score of 400 or must have an ACT English score of 17 and ACT mathematics score of 17. Before, students were admitted if they did well on a less rigorous college placement test called Compass.
One of the least expensive colleges in the state — $1,955 a semester compared to the state average of more than $7,000, and $12,000 in student debt after graduation compared to the national average of $60,000 — might be celebrating “flat” enrollment numbers this year, Schwenn said.
Flat is good because it indicates Dalton State is coming into its own, he said. Hard enrollment numbers won’t be available until later this month, spokeswoman Pam Partain said.
Regardless of the size of the college’s student body, Schwenn said he is hopeful the regents will see the need to fund more student activity options at Dalton State, including improvements to the student center and enhanced housing opportunities. The board is expected to vote on budget requests before Christmas.
“It’s difficult to get extra money to spend on things that are not seen as needed,” he said.
As Dalton State eases into being a more “traditional” 4-year college, Schwenn said that will mean more of an investment in what students want.
That’s why college officials used extra funding from last year to give Dalton State a slight facelift. Close to $342,500 was kept aside from a $13.7 million budget in fiscal year 2013 when the state board cautioned Schwenn and other college officials about cuts that ultimately didn’t happen. The extra cash went to fresh paint, new carpet and landscaping across the campus, Schwenn said.
Regent funding has been declining because the value of taxable property in the state dropped, while health care, retirement and unemployment costs went up, Schwenn said. Dalton State also lost funding from its drop in enrollment.
Why did the money go towards aesthetics instead of salaries at a college where there haven’t been raises in five years and at least three positions were cut last year?
“We want a real beautiful campus that people want to come to,” Schwenn said. “Students do go to campuses that look nice, look pretty and look wealthy.”
Schwenn said there will be no furloughs for the spring 2014 semester. College officials adopted two furlough days for the fall semester last year when budget cuts hit. Those furloughs are active this semester.
“We’re not letting go of people though,” Schwenn said about any possible cuts. “We thought that might happen.”