Layoffs hit Bemidji State U amid 20 percent enrollment decline

The cuts on college campuses just keep on coming. The next round of layoffs will hit Bemidji State University after classes wind up later this month, following a whopping 20 percent decline in enrollment post-pandemic. The layoffs announced in March will affect 23 employees in an effort to offset a $9 million deficit due to declining tuition. BSU and Northwest Technical College president John Hoffman ran out of options, according to the Bemidji Pioneer.

After pursuing alternative methods to address the deficit, administration consulted with each bargaining unit along with on-campus supervisors to enact layoffs, which will affect five probationary faculty, a senior administrator and other roles that will be restructured.

“We walked through a number of our processes over the past year,” Hoffman told the Pioneer Tuesday morning. “We engaged in some operational cuts, we’ve tried to limit the number of re-hires following departures, enacted early retirement incentives, and those have all helped us but they’re not going to be enough to close the gap.”

Administrators haven’t given up on reversing the slide in admissions, dedicating increased resources to programs aimed at attracting new students. And there’s always the possibility of the state legislature bailing them out.

“Fundamentally, the belief is that we’re growing. Even while we’re making cuts, we’re making investments in other areas,” Hoffman said, “making investments in enrollment management and other areas that are going to help us grow as an institution. The needs in northern Minnesota are still much greater than what we’re able to provide.”

Along the theme of investing in higher education, he also hopes for greater state appropriation for the Minnesota State System, which is in the process of seeking $350 million from the state legislature for the 2024-2025 fiscal year in order to fund the system’s 26 colleges and seven universities.

While academic and other programs will survive for now, the paper says some face reductions, including the canoes, kayaks and other outdoor amenities offered to students for decades on Lake Bemidji through a boathouse leased from the city.

Director of the Campus Outdoor Program Center Mark Morrissey’s position was not spared and his last day as director will be effective Jan. 2, 2024.

“It came as kind of a surprise to me, but I felt with the [boathouse] lease question floating out there, I thought ‘I wonder what that means,’” Morrissey said. “This spring especially because the enrollment dip was a serious one and we all know that we have to have cost savings and cutbacks to sustain what the university is doing. Layoffs are painful everywhere. It’s just a very tough time right now.”