At the Nov. 26 Faculty Senate meeting, Chancellor Dennis Shields reported that the university is currently facing a 7.8 million dollar structural deficit. Shields said this is mainly caused by having approximately 900 fewer full-time students than in 2016. Since projected enrollments may continue to decline due to the decreasing number of high school graduates in Wisconsin and the Tri-State area, the structural deficit will continue to worsen unless budget cuts are made.
According to the “Fiscal Year 2019-2020” presentation given Nov. 25 to the University Budget Commission and Nov. 26 to Faculty Senate, the overall structural deficit for UW-Platteville and the branch campuses sits around $8.6 million; $7.8 million is the rough deficit for UW-Platteville alone. These numbers are based off the 7,500 billable full-time students. This does not include students in self-supporting programs or those taking courses online. Approximately $8.2 of the $8.6 million deficit is due to having fewer students enrolled. Since 2016, there has been a 12% decrease in enrollment; UW-Platteville presently has 6,737 billable full-time students. Of these, 6,297 attend the main campus, while 299 come from Baraboo Sauk County and 141 from Richland.
To address this situation, the Budget Office in their presentation noted that the university has invested approximately $430k in recruitment, enrollment and retention efforts; marketing and academic programming have also been implemented to bring prospective students in. As many students have no doubt seen over the past two semesters, one aspect of this marketing effort is the split of the campus website into a current student, faculty and staff version from the “old,” now advertising-focused, website repurposed for those searching the university online. Chancellor Shields added that the administration and Deans are currently engaged in discussions about how to do this, and proposals will be presented in January. Reductions should be made “in accordance with the strategic plan goals and priorities,” according to the Dec. 5 Faculty Senate minutes. Spring schedule not affected At a Dec. 4 College of Liberal Arts and Education meeting, LAE Dean Melissa Gormley answered questions from concerned faculty and staff members. When asked if the spring semester course offerings would likely change, Gormley said they would not.
“Whatever changes are made will affect things in the fall of 2020, not this spring,” Gormley said. She stated there was a possibility that low-enrolled courses might be canceled, but “that is always the case. We’ll follow our usual procedures for spring course offerings.” Students have expressed concerns that some programs will eventually be cut.
“With the massive cuts our university is facing, I fear a decline in some of the smaller programs on our campus. Just a few years ago the university faced financial constraints and made the decision to discontinue Media Studies. The cutting of Media Studies left a lot up in the air with regards to students still in that major and how they would continue to pursue their degree in Media Studies,” said senior Jordan Roberson, Director of Inclusion for UW-System Student Representatives.
“While I don’t think entire majors will be cut this time around I am worried about the smaller and newer programs on campus that have not had the opportunity to mature into strong programs with the limited amount of time they have been around.”
Why is the crisis so large?
How can falling enrollments cause this large of a crisis at a public institution? According to the previously mentioned
“Fiscal Year 2019-2020” presentation, the actual support given to the university by the state is about 16% of the overall operating budget. In contrast, student money, either paid directly or as part of federal aid in the forms of grants and loans, covers almost ¾ of the cost of running the university. The university receives around $59,822,351 million from direct tuition. It also receives about $42,852,365 million in federal aid; most of that aid is what budgeters call “pass-through” dollars which is federal aid paid to the university through the loans that students take out and the grants they receive. In other words, money that students receive or (more often) are loaned for their classes, room and meal plans is considered federal aid that is filtered through the students. When one adds that to the direct tuition money, one finds that 74% of the overall operating budget comes from students. This means that a drop in enrollment of a few hundred students can cause a budget catastrophe.
Didn’t we just have a budget crisis?
Students who have been here for more than three years may remember another budget crisis, which led to faculty and staff layoffs, the end of some low-enrolled majors and minors and changes to the general education program. During both budget presentations, participants noted the different cause of that budget crisis compared to this one. “Four years ago, we had a severe deficit because of direct government cuts. It resulted in substantial layoffs, though we served the same number of students. This time, the deficit comes from fewer students. It’s projected to get slowly worse for several years after 2025,” said Terry Burns, an English professor and chair of the University Budget Commission. “In effect, we must find a way to either shrink, as our student base shrinks with the expected decrease in Wisconsin college population, or draw in more students from elsewhere. However, all colleges in Wisconsin and much of the Midwest will be trying to draw in more students from elsewhere.” According to a line graph provided by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, college enrollment, while slowly declining now, will drop significantly in the next five years with the peak drop-off at 2025. The Midwest itself will see an even greater drop in enrollment, well below the national average. Because UW-Platteville draws most of its students from the surrounding area, it will be hit harder than campuses like UW-Madison who draws in many out-of-state and international students.