Selkirk College is hoping to avoid layoffs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by offering employees voluntary retirements and resignations.
In a letter sent June 30, the college laid out several options for its employees to consider. Those include taking up to one year of unpaid leave with benefits and seniority remaining intact, or opting for voluntary work load reductions of up to 50 per cent and voluntary resignations with modest financial incentives.
The move comes as the college is experiencing a budget deficit related to the impacts of COVID-19.
“The last three months has been really tiring for people,” said Selkirk College president Angus Graeme. “We are anticipating a very difficult year coming up, both in terms of operation — how to be a different college — as well as budgetary wise.”
Graeme says about 110 international students were not able to start the spring semester in May due to travel restrictions and the closure of international Canadian visa offices, resulting in an almost seven-figure hit to the school’s revenues.
Graeme says this step is just an interim measure as the real loss to tuition revenue will not be known until September.
“This is sort of a last resort,” said Graeme.
He says the school has already curtailed travel and expense budgets and held off on renewing some contracts. But the technology budget had to be increased to cover necessities related to moving classes online.
The number of student applications to the college is fairly strong at this point compared to other years, but restrictions on inter-provincial and international travel may prevent students from coming in the fall.
The college has also been lobbying the provincial government for some relief. One of the things they have been asking for is permission to run a modest deficit this year. Right now, public post-secondary institutions are not allowed to run deficits.
Graeme says the school is a “lean operation” and there are no stock piles of money laying around to bolster the budget.
About half of the college’s revenue comes from government grants, with the other half coming from tuition and other types of revenue such as contracts and fees for service. Of the tuition portion, half comes from domestic students and half from international students.
Two areas of the college saw an uptake in spring enrollment — the adult basic education program and the online university arts and sciences program.
Graeme says the college is still working on many aspects of operations for the fall and waiting for more direction from the province as they look at how the school as a whole will operate and how individual classrooms will need to be set up to comply with social distancing protocols.
“There is a lot left to happen,” said Graeme. “It may not all be good, but I am really confident that the college will somehow pull through.”