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story.lead_photo.caption Students make their way to and from classes in the Center for Humanities and Arts building at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College campus in North Little Rock in this August 2019 file photo. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College is furloughing 18 employees, laying off 16 more and leaving 19 positions unfilled as it "restructures" to incorporate smaller units into bigger ones.

The shrinking college will furlough catering and child-care employees for two months, beginning Monday. Another group of employees -- including the chancellor, provost, vice chancellor for finance and vice chancellor for institutional advancement -- will be furloughed for the first 15 days of June. It wasn't clear, as of early Wednesday evening, how many people are in each group.

"University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College is reorganizing its various departments to improve efficiency and to achieve cost savings in its operations as a result of ongoing challenges inherent in the Covid-19 pandemic," a statement from the college read. "College leadership has developed a four-part plan that includes a combination of short-term furloughs, elimination of non-academic positions, freezing of positions, and consolidation of service units."

No faculty members are affected, so course offerings won't change, spokesman Tim Jones said.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

People who have been laid off will remain employees until the next fiscal year begins July 1. They were notified Wednesday morning via memos noting goals of improved college efficiency and cost savings.

The jobs eliminated span 13 different units at the college, including finance and administration, admissions and purchasing.

Staff Senate President Robert Moore called the cuts "disheartening," while acknowledging that they are part of a larger trend in higher education.

Pulaski Tech isn't the first college to lay off or furlough staff members because of the coronavirus pandemic. The University of Arkansas at Monticello has laid off at least one person, and Henderson State University began furloughing employees last week.

Colleges nationwide are grappling with financial losses, and dismal enrollment and financial projections for the fall. Many public institutions have already struggled with declining state revenue since the recession more than 12 years ago.

Moore, an academic adviser, said the administration did not approach the staff senate about the cuts and said all staff members learned of them at the same time.

Moore noted numerous changes at the college in terms of governance in recent years. The college has seen a decline in enrollment and underwent a financially motivated merger into the University of Arkansas System.

"Largely, in my opinion, restructuring can be tricky with so much uncertainty, so it is hard to say this early whether it is in the right direction," Moore said. "Higher education is turbulent right now. Restructuring is sometimes necessary, but I think proper assessment must be used when determining a restructure to see how it impacts the students but also faculty and staff."

Pulaski Tech enrolled 5,531 students last fall, according to the Arkansas Division of Higher Education. That was down 27.6% from five years prior, when it enrolled 7,641 students. However, it was up 1.6% from the fall of 2018, when 5,445 students enrolled.

Unlike most University of Arkansas System schools, Pulaski Tech projected no shortfall next year and increased revenue of nearly $3 million compared with what it originally projected for this year. The unexpected enrollment increase boosted revenue after that projection.

Nonetheless, the school budgeted for a 6% enrollment decrease this fall, compared with last fall. Trustees approved a $46.7 million budget for the college last week.

Metro on 05/28/2020

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