Classes Curtailed for Spring Semester

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – Earlier this week, rumors began to swirl through the world of social media about the possible closure of the Angelina College (AC) Crockett Center.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, those rumors were confirmed by AC President Dr. Michael Simon and AC Communications Manager Nancy Reynolds.

“We will be closing down that center,” Reynolds indicated in a Thursday phone conversation. “We’ve tried to turn it around but enrollment in the center has been declining. It hasn’t been self-sustaining. So, we just feel it is more prudent to serve our students in that area in a different manner.”

She explained students would still have the option of on-line classes or concurrent classes through the various high schools in Houston County.

“We will still be working with the hospital in our health careers program,” she added.

Reynolds said the faculty and staff had been informed of the decision on Tuesday, Sept. 18 “… and I have heard social media is buzzing about it. Our goal is to serve the students as best we can. We have classes going on now so pragmatically we have to finish out the semester. As far as physically packing up the building, I don’t have a specific date.”

Following the phone call with Reynolds, Dr. Simon was also contacted. He also confirmed the closure of the facility and said the operation of the building itself had become “… cost prohibitive, given the enrollment we have.”

“We are in active negotiations with community leaders to either reduce costs within the facility or to find other venues that would be a lower cost than the college is operating at to offer classes. I want to emphasize we are committed to continue to offer courses in that area,” the college president said.

Simon said the social media activity was caused by a meeting he held with the staff of the Crockett campus so they could hear what the concerns were and “… so they were not hearing it as a rumor, but rather getting it directly from me.”

He said the college generated approximately $81,000 in revenue for the 2017-2018 fiscal year but had expenses totaling roughly $281,000.

“We will lose about $200,000 operating the center. If we are just doing faculty expenses, we still have about $90,000 in faculty salaries and benefits to teach the classes. We could probably manage a $10,000 loss if we had to, but the center expenses are about $190,000. That includes some staff positions like receptionists and administrative assistants as well as utilities, maintenance, custodial and those types of things,” Simon explained.

As far as the current staff at the Crockett campus, Simon indicated the college was attempting to relocate employees to the main campus in Lufkin for those currently available positions.

“I was frank with them. I told them if we aren’t able to find a solution – and we do have to close the center – there may be some job loss,” Simon said.

New avenues were being explored by the college including venues to teach classes which were not centers, like the one in Crockett, Simon commented.

“We are using high schools, we are using hospitals and we are using public libraries. A number of students in these communities choose to take classes online. That is one of the things we found in the Crockett Center is that a number of students take classes online instead of going to the Crockett Center. It is just their preferred way of taking class. We are confident we can still offer classes in the community. It’s just a matter of not having the $190,000 in overhead,” he said.

Asked what would happen with the building itself, Simon explained the facility was not owned by the college but was owned by the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation.

“We have met a number of times with community leaders. We have also met with Mr. (James) Gentry who is the executive director of the economic development group. We have shared the information through him to his board and I believe they are very engaged in trying to help develop a solution that will work for everyone,” he said.

Simon emphasized if the college was able to find a way to reduce costs to stay in the building “… that option is still on the table. If that doesn’t happen, at the end of the fall semester is when we cease operations in the building. I believe that is sometime in mid-December.”

According to Simon, the AC system has seen a decline in enrollment in two of the three centers it operates. The other two centers are in Jasper and Polk County. The drop, he said, had been consistent over the last five years.

“When I started my presidency here three years ago, I met with all of the center directors and said I was concerned about the volume of business they were doing in the centers compared to the expense. I encouraged them to grow their enrollment. I also had them do SWOT analyses to see where they could open up new avenues of enrollment,” he said.

A SWOT analysis is an organized list of a business’s greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

“As we were developing the annual budget, just approved for this coming fiscal year, that’s when we realized continuing to run deficits like this was not in the best interest of the college and ultimately of the students because it is not the most efficient way to offer classes, with the model we have now,” he said.

As the discussion continued, Simon remarked he had met with community leaders several months ago and had shared the college’s financial information with them.

“We have been engaged in this conversation and they have been aware of the college’s concerns for quite some time,” he said. “I will say that the teams that are there – the center directors – I think they did everything they could think of to reach out and generate interest in non-traditional students who had never thought about going to college. I felt they had made a good faith effort to address the enrollment trends, but there just wasn’t the interest.”

To keep the center open, Simon indicated it would take a shared effort by the various entities in Houston County such as the county, the cities, the school districts, economic development and corporate donors.

“I really hope we can find some sort of solution along those lines to make this feasible. That would be the most direct way – in my opinion – to keep the center open,” he said. “We’re not talking about a one- time expense. We are talking about a long-term commitment to seeing the value of having the center in the community and wanting to support it.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.