Budget: A delicate balancing act



As budget shortfalls and low enrollment numbers plague colleges and universities across the state and country, the MSUM administration continues to work hard to balance the budget and prevent a projected $8 million deficit that would occur in fiscal year 2015-16.

The hardest hitting news is that of the proposal of laying off three tenure or tenure-track faculty positions. This proposal comes after two rounds of early retirement offers with incentives that were sent to a number of faculty, with a total of 20 faculty accepting the early retirement option after the second round of offers.

Along with the three proposed layoffs and 20 early retirement acceptances, it has been proposed that 17 fixed term faculty will not have their contracts renewed. Provost Anne Blackhurst explains that fixed term faculty, while they usually teach a full course load, are contracted from year-to-year.

“If you take all that together, it’s the 20 retirements, the 17 temporary faculty and the three proposed layoffs . . . that’s about 10 percent of our faculty,” Blackhurst said. “Our enrollment has decreased about 11 percent since the fall of 2010. If you think about that, then this 10 percent decrease in our faculty is somewhat commensurate with the decline in enrollment that we’ve experienced over the last few years.”

Cutting faculty positions is not the only method MSUM is using to balance the projected shortfalls. Last week, The Advocate reported on the school’s Fall 2014 Strategic Enrollment Action Plan, which Blackhurst says will make up about $1.5 million of the projected shortfall.

Department mergers were proposed at the Faculty Association meet and confer on Dec. 5 to reduce administrative costs. At another meet and confer on Wednesday, a proposal to merge Theater with Music instead of with Cinema Arts and Digital Technologies was presented to the faculty association. Other  proposed changes were in the way faculty are rostered for seniority.

The faculty association has 10 business days to formulate a response to the new information presented at the meet and confer, and will meet and discuss with administration any changes they wish to see.

“The measures we’ve taken to this point are the retirements, the proposal we made in December and these few modifications we made to this just yesterday. All of that adds up to about $6.5 million in reductions, and we are planning to increase enrollment, so that revenue would make up the other $1.5 million.” Blackhurst said.

After all measures have been implemented, Blackhurst said that MSUM will still have one of the lowest student to faculty ratios in the MnSCU system. MSUM has a student to faculty ratio of 15:1 right now, and after faculty reductions, she estimates it will be around 16:1.

“That still is substantially lower than institutions with 20-to-one, 22-to-one ratios. We are making an adjustment to bring faculty in line with enrollment numbers. We’re not talking about holding enrollment constant and then cutting the size of our faculty,” Blackhurst said.

Administration has located five programs with low enrollment and has selected to phase them out over the next three years. Blackhurst said that many of the students currently enrolled in these programs are seniors slated to graduate this spring and will not be affected by any changes. The remaining students in the programs will be able to finish their degrees before the programs are completely phased out.

The five programs that will be discontinued, which at this time contain 69 students, are American Multicultural Studies (minors will continue to exist), Community Health, Music Composition, Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Medical Laboratory Science and the certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Blackhurst wrote in an email to students Wednesday:

“I am writing to reassure you that, except for a small number of low enrollment programs, 70 excellent academic majors and minors at MSUM will continue to be offered, including these new programs added recently due to student and employer interest:  master’s degrees in business administration (executive MBA with healthcare emphasis), health care administration, nursing administration, and accounting and finance; bachelor’s degree in project management; minors in media arts and doing business in China; and certificates in entrepreneurship, professional writing, professional communication, visual communication and professional ethics.”

More information can be found in a press release at mnstate.edu or by contacting Student Sentate president Kevin Struxness or the Provost’s office.

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