NORFOLK - The COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial struggles for colleges across the country, and the story is much the same at Northeast Community College.

Dean of Student Life & Athletics Kurt Kohler says discussions about trimming athletic budgets were being had prior to the pandemic, but once financial losses due to COVID-19 were taken into account, the decision was made to cut three athletic programs.

"We thought at this point the best decision for Northeast to be able to maintain its athletic programs was to take a strong look at cutting rodeo, and we did that," Kohler said. "We did a cost analysis, and it was about $160,000 savings that we would have annually by cutting rodeo, we don't have a facility on-campus, so that played into it as well."

"We did end up cutting our dance program at the beginning of the pandemic as well, and we're saving about $25,000-$30,000 a year with that program," Kohler said.

In addition, the men's and women's basketball teams will be moving from Division 1 to Division 2 starting in 2021, which will in turn eliminate room and board scholarships from both programs.

"Each program had five room and board scholarships they had been giving the last couple of years, and that's a savings annually of between $85,000-$90,000 a year, so total we're well over $250,000 in savings to the taxpayers of our region," Kohler said.

"We're sad that this does impact student-athletes, but we're happy that we're able to make that change now to trim those expenses so that we can maintain a strong athletic program with the other sports that we have," Kohler said. 

Kohler believes the elimination of room and board scholarships will change the ways in which the men's and women's basketball teams recruit, as more regional players may be on the way in the future.

"We've seen international students pick up room and board scholarships, and now they may not want to come if they're not getting their entire college paid for," Kohler said. "I would anticipate we're going to start seeing a lot more students from Nebraska, western Iowa, and South Dakota," Kohler said.

"That's always good for attendance at ball games, it creates a different atmosphere when grandma, grandpa, parents, little brothers and sisters are able to come out and watch rather than having to travel eight or ten hours to come watch the games," Kohler said.

Kohler says that while future changes are still possible, he believes the cuts that have already been made will go a long way in stabilizing the finances at Northeast.

"I don't think anything is off the table, we just don't know what this pandemic has completely done to finances in our area," Kohler said. "We're going to have to see how things play out, but I really think we've made some impactful changes that should end up stabilizing our finances so we can continue to move forward."

Kohler says Northeast is planning on having its seasons in the fall, and staff are working on a process to bring in student-athletes in a safe manner.