Cuts due to declining enrollment get real at St. Cloud State

No one can say administrators at St. Cloud State University didn’t warn them. Long before SCSU President Robbyn Wacker recently left her post two months early, she froze registration in dozens of academic programs and announced layoffs of some 36 faculty and staff. The action came in response to a $24 million budget deficit caused by a nosedive in enrollment from 18,000 students in 2010 to 10,000 students today.

Despite the advance warning, the Star Tribune notes the breath of the cuts to programs and faculty caught the campus off guard.

Larry Lee, acting president, announced the proposed cuts to a stunned campus community Monday afternoon.

Administrators are aiming for the university to lean into its 90 strongest degree programs and 35 strongest minor programs; it currently offers 136 degree programs and 85 minor programs. The cuts include criminal justice, gender and women’s studies, history, music teaching, sociology, environmental engineering, and hospitality and tourism.

“Ninety-one percent of our students are enrolled in the 90 programs that are proposed to remain,” said Lee, the vice president of finance and administration, who stepped into the top leadership role Sunday. “We’re tweaking the model to better align with student interests today.”

The staff and program reductions initiated last year lowered the current budget deficit to $15 million. But even deeper cuts, including roughly 175 faculty members, will be imposed over the next several years in order to balance the books.

SCSU leaders have attributed the chronic budget deficit to a steady enrollment decline that wasn’t met with a similar reduction in staffing levels, as well as instructional costs that are the highest among the seven Minnesota State universities…

“The problem is our expenses are out of alignment with our revenue base. Last year, we generated $122 million in revenue but we spent $140 million,” Lee said. “So we just have to align our expenses with our revenue so we can continue to deliver the extraordinary education that we’ve been doing for 155 years.”

That means expenditures big and small will be under the microscope for savings.

In his presentation to faculty Monday, Lee listed several cost-saving measures already implemented such as a reduction in overtime and in-person training that requires travel, as well as a reduction in office cleaning frequency and even a reduction in the treatment of insects and spiders.

Administrators must mean business with even politically correct programs like gender and women’s studies, facing elimination. Most of the programs being axed have three or fewer students enrolled. After the reorganization, SCSU will have cut degree programs from 136 to 90, while slashing the number of minor programs by more than half, from 85 to 35.