Because of low enrollment and an increase in the cost of retirement packages, Truman State University is looking to save about $3 million in the next fiscal year.
Terry Olson, chair of the advisory committee, finds funds to reallocate in academic affairs and makes a recommendation to the provost and Deans’ Council.
Olson said the goal of the committee is to find at least the minimum sum of expenditure reductions needed out of the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Olson said academic affairs has been dealing with this issue for some time behind the scenes. From fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2020, academic affairs has cut $5.225 million collectively out of its budget, Olson said.
Among the reasons for these required cuts are escalating pension costs in the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System program. In 2017, Truman was required to contribute 16.97% of covered faculty members’ salaries into MOSERS. In 2021, the required contribution rate will be 22.88%.
Janet Gooch, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said academic affairs needs to save at least $1.4 million in fiscal year 2021.
“That target has increased a bit over time due to revisions in estimated enrollment for next year,” Olson said. “The group would also like, if possible, to find more than just the minimum amount needed, so that some money could go toward faculty salary adjustments.”
Gooch said that cutting $1.6 million would allow the University to put some money toward raising faculty salaries. The $1.4 million estimate does not include a faculty salary increase.
With an entire academic affairs budget a little over $40 million, $1.4 million is still a lot of money Gooch said. She said cutting $1.4 million from the budget will have an impact and Truman will have to make informed decisions in a short amount of time to mitigate the impact of the cuts.
Olson said the committee is trying to come up with recommendations and priorities for both the short term and the long term.
“Because of the ongoing nature of this issue, many of the easiest solutions have already been used,” Olson said. “The committee would like to use easiest remaining solutions short term, to the extent possible.”
Olson said easy solutions will possibly be exhausted for the fiscal year 2020. He also said there will need to be some significant changes in the long term about the way some things are done around Truman.
“Long term the budget cuts will almost surely require a noticeable decrease in staffing with current and projected enrollment numbers,” Olson said. “Since a 2006 email to campus from then-president [Barbara] Dixon, it has been clear that the University has had too many faculty relative to the number of students.”
Olson said the high faculty number also contributes to the low faculty salaries. He said that some people would like downsizing to be done to the maximum extent possible through voluntary separations from Truman.
Olson said faculty who are tenured or in tenure-track positions are fairly secure in terms of keeping their jobs. Elimination of those types of jobs would require more budget problems than the University can handle, and would likely require a declaration of financial exigency. He said Truman is nowhere near that point.
Olson said, however, non-tenure track faculty have less job security, but the committee would like to treat them as humanely as possible.
“Some faculty who will not lose their job will likely be required to redesign how they do their jobs,” Olson said. “With fewer faculty [long term], there will need to be increased emphasis on efficiency in credit hour generation. Some people will perhaps have to broaden what they teach to things outside just their home department or even a subarea within their home department.”
Olson said the committee made a conscious choice to start looking for funds in places where they might be able to accumulate the largest amounts of funds quickly with comparatively minimal pain.
He said the first place the committee identified was cost savings from attrition, which consists of salary and benefit savings from people who have left Truman or signaled that they will before next August.
“That may have gotten us half or more of the sum of money we were looking for in the first week, depending on how the budget director scores those findings,” Olson said. “We have subsequently moved on to look at things like historical patterns of unspent funds in academic affairs subunits and potential reductions in operating budgets for some departments or other subunits.”
Olson said the committee is trying to buy time in its short term decision making so that some of the more substantial changes that will need to come at the level of departments and individual faculty members can be thoughtfully determined.
It is not unreasonable to request reasonable changes in how things are done, he said, but it is only fair to give people time to come up with plans on how best to do those things.
“All [committee members] acknowledge that the best interest of the University as a whole must come first while we try to treat people humanely,” Olson said.
Olson said the group is committed to the fact that departments and faculty will need to be held accountable for credit hour generation targets, but it is up to the departments as to how those targets are achieved.
Gooch said deans are working with their respective departments to determine where they can cut back to give back to the general fund. All things have to be considered on an individual basis, she said, because every department is different.
Decisions about number of sections taught, size of sections, credit hours per course, frequency of course offerings, specificity of course offerings and others are best made at a local level, Olson said.
“How I feel about the budget cuts doesn’t matter. The cuts must come,” Olson said. “Among the reasons that the cuts must come is to deal with increases in costs beyond our control.”
Olson said it is quite possible that at the end of this ongoing process Truman will be a better university than it is now. Administration might find increases in efficiency, might be able to improve equitable treatment of faculty and find new ways of doing things that yield better student outcomes, he said.