Challenges still lie ahead for Adams State

Adams State University is not out of the woods yet as it still faces future financial challenges./Photo courtesy of ASU

ALAMOSA — Although the future is more optimistic for Adams State University in many ways, its challenges are not yet over.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s not all rosy and cheery,” ASU Trustee Chairman Cleave Simpson said during a Friday board of trustees meeting. “We are not out of the woods yet.”

ASU trustees on Friday discussed the university’s present and long-term financial status including the continuing ramifications of the financial action plan the trustees approved earlier this year. The trustees adopted a plan to improve the fiscal year 2018 budget by $2.7 million and subsequently eliminated positions, reduced salaries and modified or eliminated a few programs.

Simpson said the university still has to come up with either revenue or cost savings of about $1.5 million next year, so “The challenge is still very much there. Don’t get too comfortable that we have done everything we needed to have done.”

Chief Financial Officer Heather Heersink presented financial reports for the end of the last fiscal year and the beginning of the new fiscal year, which were approved by the trustees.

“This was really a year of tightening our belts,” Heersink said. “We did what we needed to.”

Every department cut what it could and saved money where it could, she reminded the board of trustees. For example, if a department could cut out professional development, that would help in the short-term, but it would not be something the university would want to occur in the long term, she explained.

Simpson reminded the board that ASU produced a budget based on a 5-percent decline in enrollment, as enrollments have been declining at the university. The decline this fall was not as much, however.

“It’s closer to 1 percent,” Heersink said.

She added that some of the larger classes from several years ago are now graduating, and smaller class sizes are moving through the system. On a brighter side, she said on-line and extended study classes are coming back in a more appropriate format, but that growth takes time.

Faculty Trustee Dr. Robert Benson agreed, saying that new programs with the potential to increase enrollment may take time to produce revenue.

He also expected donations to the university to increase now that the university is no longer under accreditation sanctions.

Trustee Michele Lueck asked if there was a forecast for the “light at the end of the tunnel” and how the university was trying to stave off the declining enrollment trend. “When does this have to stop?” she asked.

Simpson said, “We know we can’t continue the trend that we have seen.” He added that there is no single “silver bullet” for fixing it. It will take innovation in finding new resources as well as maximizing current resources, he said.

“We are not going to cut our way to success here,” he said.

Simpson said the university underwent a significant financial challenge last year, and the next challenge is to figure out how to reverse the trend and increase revenue rather than continuing to cut.

He added, “Let’s be more about revenue generation than cost cutting.”

He said he would like to focus on building enrollment and retention of existing students.

ASU President Cheryl Lovell said the executive committee is trying to look at enrollment improvement using data to develop a strategic plan as part of long-term planning, not just one year at a time.

Lovell discussed a new landscape in higher education today in which “we can’t rely on state funding … There’s no consistency in state support.” Colorado is near the bottom in the nation in state funding for higher education, she added. Hopefully that will change, she added, but institutions like Adams State cannot rely on that.

“How do we develop a new business model going forward where we control our destiny by being good stewards of our resources as well as seeking new resources and not expecting the increases to come from the state, even though we are going to push for it?” she posed as a question for the trustees to consider.

She said the Adams 100 campaign is perfect timing to help the university capture other sources of funding. The campaign will capitalize on support for Adams State as it nears its 100th “birthday.” 2021 will be 100 years since Adams was chartered and 2025 will be 100 years since the first class was held.

Lovell said it is crucial for the university to be good stewards of its resources, constantly looking for ways to maximize resources while dealing with increased costs of doing business.

“The executive team monitors budgets very closely,” she said.

Trustee Reeves Brown said what the numbers do not reflect are the positive trends in attitude on campus. “I am very encouraged where we are at,” he said.

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