UMD enrollment decline deepens, leading to bigger deficit and likely cuts

Administrators at the University of Minnesota Duluth thought the decade-long decline in enrollment would finally level off this fall. That rosy assumption led the U of M system to help bail out UMD from a significant budget deficit earlier this year. But news that enrollment projections fell short by several hundred more students this fall caught the system’s second-largest campus by surprise, according to the News Tribune.

A total of 9,350 students are enrolled this fall, down 325 students from a year ago, according to the University of Minnesota’s Institutional Data and Research office.

Over the summer, the University of Minnesota system relieved UMD’s expected 2024 budget deficit of $16.5 million, with system funding covering more than half and the rest covered by a one-time carry forward of funds. But breaking even with that additional help assumed consistent enrollment between 2022 and 2023.

So with less tuition revenue than expected, UMD is left with a $2.7 million shortfall in fiscal year 2024, according to UMD’s most recent expectations for revenue and expenses.

Academic programs were already under review with an eye toward streamlining in favor of more marketable courses likely to attract more enrollees. That process becomes more critical than ever as UMD faces a rocky financial picture due to a decline in tuition.

But costs will need to be cut, too. After all, the university system last summer gave UMD $8 million in one-time funding to cover its shortfall. [Interim Chancellor David] McMillan would not give a specific dollar target for cuts.

The school is reviewing data from all undergraduate and graduate academic programs and could make decisions on the future of programs later this year and early next year.

“What we’re trying to do is get a baseline set of information around which we can evaluate. What do we do best? What could we do better? And, God forbid, what might we not do going forward?” McMillan said.

It’s not exactly the ideal time for union faculty members to push for a 15 percent pay hike, but they recently hit the picket line anyway with contract negotiations bogged down. For one thing, administrators want faculty members to be more productive by increasing their workload.

John Schwetman, president of the University Education Association–Duluth and an associate professor of English at UMD, said there has long been an understanding to keep teaching loads about 15%, or about one course, below the contract’s limit so faculty could spend time on research, grants and developing teaching practices.

“I’ve never seen my colleagues at UMD this concerned about the future of this institution and their ability to teach students in the way they have,” Schwetman said last week ahead of a union rally.

Even if enrollment eventually turns around, UMD likely faces increasing staff and faculty cuts. Even the university system can only bail out UMD so many times.