ALAMOSA — Adams State University Board of Trustees are one step closer to finalizing their contingency plan to get the institution back on track fiscally. During their Friday meeting the board approved a set of criteria that will help prioritize where to possibly make layoffs, budget cuts and other financial fixes in a move the university calls “right-sizing.”
Low enrollment, less state funding and academic probation has put ASU in a tight spot. ASU President Beverlee McClure said on Friday that the university is currently staffed to manage 3,000 undergrad students, yet it only has 1,600.
Physics Professor and Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Matt Nehring, who is part of the leadership team spearheading the contingency plan committees, presented four sets of criteria for the university’s academic, athletic, operations and student services departments.
The following criteria for the academic programs were workshopped over weeks of meetings and it was decided that all seven items should be weighted equally:
Similar criteria to weigh the cost and benefit with department-specific nuances were approved for the university’s athletics, operations and student services.
Though the exact dollar amount is a moving target, ASU needs roughly $3 million annually in revenue or savings to become financially sound. That estimate includes the university’s $800,000 deficit and salary adjustments needed to align their compensation to that of their peer institutions. As discussed in their October meeting, ASU currently sits at the bottom of College and University Professional Association (CUPA)’s list of average salaries for 89 institutions, which makes recruitment and retention difficult.
The same can be said for student enrollment and graduation rates: 2010 was ASU’s peak enrollment year and it has decreased every year since.
Executive Director of Enrollment Management Karla Hardesty shared a Ruffalo Noel Levitz report during a work session on Thursday that detailed how high school graduation is declining across the country. Meanwhile, Colorado and other states in the Rocky Mountain region are seeing an increase of high school graduates. This has increased competition from both in-state and out-of-state recruiters. With a total of 88 higher education intuitions in Colorado, each would see about 229 students if every state graduate were divided among them.
ASU wouldn’t have to worry about the competition as much if it was still the most affordable public institution in the state; however, it is now the sixth most expensive of public institutions.
“Our tuition and fees have tripled in the last 10 years,” said Hardesty. “There are now only winners and losers. There are no new students. Competition is at an all time high. Students’ willingness and ability to pay have diminished. Some of them straight up don’t have the means to pay for college anymore. We have to build demand for students to come here and I think for us we have to emphasize the value of going to college.”
“We cannot continue to put this on the backs of students,” added McClure. “Our students come in and they have that sticker shock because they figured out their financial aid and all of a sudden these fees appear. The number one reason students have left to transfer to other schools is because of the cost here.”
The fees have partly increased to make up for the loss of online open enrollment, which was caused by the Higher Learning Commission putting the university on academic probation. In turn that has hurt the reputation of ASU and affected recruitment.
“Anyone who applies to the university gets a letter saying that we have to notify you that we are on academic probation,” said McClure on Thursday.
ASU hasn’t had a problem recruiting athletes. Yet that hurt the budget, too. According to McClure the average Division II percentage of student athletes is 15-18 percent and ASU is made up of 40 percent student athletes.
“We can’t get our revenue correct because it costs more per full time equivalent for an athlete,” said McClure. “We grew athletics but what we didn’t do was grow the non student athlete population. It’s the only way you can balance the budget.”
While major cuts to the athletic program weren’t discussed, other than the approval of the department’s criteria, Trustee Wendell Pryor added on Friday that he would like to preserve the department as much as possible.
“I would certainly like to not tear down the progress we’ve made in the athletics program,” said Pryor. “It has to be a shared sacrifice and I’d like to preserve as much of that infrastructure as we can.”
Woven into the contingency plan is a voluntary separation incentive proposal, which was approved on Friday. Rather than lay off faculty, the proposal would incentivize them leaving ASU and it outlines how to backfill the vacancies.
For instance, according to a report presented by ASU Human Resources Director Tracy Rogers, if five classified personnel decided to leave then it would cost the university roughly $57,000 to pay them 13 weeks of salary. If only four of those positions are filled at a downgraded salary, then ASU could save approximately $38,000 in the first year and $95,000 in the second year.
Also passed during Friday’s meeting was a resolution to start a dialogue with ASU’s foundation to perhaps aid their financial troubles. According the audit of the university’s 2017 fiscal year the foundation has $20.5 million in net assets.
“We are two entities here but we often don’t have that interaction that we should be having,” said Vice Chair Kathleen Rogers and liaison to the ASU Foundation Board. “I think this is timely and I fully support this. Hopefully these conversations will be completely mutual and that there would be an understanding that we have the same goal in mind.”
The resolution does not mention a specific amount of funds and the board wishes for their legal counsel to be present so that any exchange of monies is above board.
The approval of the criteria for the contingency plan does not implement the hypothesized cuts. After a series of reviews and recommendations the board will look at the draft of the plan in February and approve the contingency plan in April.