Some 450 faculty and staff attended a much-anticipated general faculty meeting Wednesday where President Chuck Ambrose outlined $10.7 million in budget cuts and a possible reorganization of the four colleges on campus to three.
Due to deeper cuts in state appropriations for fiscal year 2019, which would be $5.6 million based on Gov. Eric Greiten’s budget proposal and the significant decline in enrollment in international graduate students, UCM is again facing the arduous task of providing educational services to students with a considerable and sudden reduction in resources.
“It’s difficult for us to once again talk about that next reset button, reshaping higher education, and saying that we’re doing anything wrong,” Ambrose said at the meeting. “We’re doing a whole lot of things right. But then, of course, the world throws some things at you that you can’t necessarily control and then you have to think, ‘What does that mean for us and how do we move forward?’”
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Roger Best said UCM is projected to receive $49 million in state appropriations, lower than the approximately $60 million it received in fiscal year 2001. However, when adjusted for inflation, the $60 million in 2001 would be about $87 million in 2019. In actual value, the university is down about $38 million.
Ambrose said the university’s focuses moving forward, particularly in the next three years, will be sustainability, academic performance and student success.
The biggest focus will be in increasing the university’s retention rate. Ambrose said that every 1 percent increase in retention amounts to $800,000 in new revenue. Currently, UCM’s retention rate is just under 72 percent. Ambrose said the goal is to increase that to 80 percent.
In a Muleskinner interview prior to the faculty meeting, Provost and Chief Learning Officer Mike Godard said the university will shift from an equality model of education, whereby the same standards and benefits are applied to every student, to an equity model of education, where more focus will be given to students most at risk for not finishing their degree. He said that shift should help increase the retention rate.
“Two-thirds of our student population falls into one of three categories: first generation student, Pell-eligible student, or underrepresented minority,” Godard said. “Our students that don’t fall into one of those three groups that make up the other third retain at about 82 percent. Those students that fall into one of those three groups retain at about 66 percent. That’s an achievement gap. So, we need to focus more on equity and not so much on equality.”
A total of 150 positions may be affected by the budget cuts. However, 98 of those positions are already vacant – 29 faculty positions and 67 staff positions – because of the Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive offered to and accepted by employees in this year.
The plan is simply to eliminate those positions at a savings of about $6.6 million. There are between 30 and 50 positions that are currently filled that will be eliminated.
However, Godard said the university will preserve the faculty tenure and rank process. Ambrose said promotions are critical for the quality of the education provided to students.
“We, in the best of times and the worst of times, have committed ourselves to promotion and rank decisions,” Ambrose said. “That is absolutely critical if we maintain quality in a faculty. And that’s our primary driver of output, the quality of the experience.”
Additional strategies for fiscal year 2019 include a $1 million athletic budget reduction, a $500,000 maintenance and repair reduction, a $1.6 million reduction to the operating budget and $1 million in contributions from auxiliary enterprises such as the University Book Store.
Another proposal that will be presented to the board of governors in two weeks is reducing the number of academic colleges from four to three. The interim dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Michael Sekelsky, is retiring, and the consolidation of colleges wouldn’t mean the removal of a dean. However, it may affect other positions within the college.
Godard said while the cuts in state appropriations are factoring into the administrative decisions, many decisions are made every year and are not necessarily made because of the budget.
“We are looking at restructuring academic colleges in terms of how we can be more efficient,” he said. “Not necessarily looking at individual programs in terms of eliminating those; we already have a process through the state, through the Missouri Department of Higher Education on how we look at the viability of academic programs. That’s been there, it is there, and it will continue to be there. That’s nothing new. When we look at restructuring colleges, it’s really to look for increased efficiencies.”