UALR copes with enrollment decline; now studying potential program cuts for 2015 | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, March 5, 2015

UALR copes with enrollment decline; now studying potential program cuts for 2015

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge UALR CHANCELLOR JOELANDERSON: Program cuts possible. - UALR
  • UALR
  • UALR CHANCELLOR JOELANDERSON: Program cuts possible.

It hasn't necessarily drawn wide community attention, but UALR — in part because of its traditional role as a metropolitan university with a high number of non-traditional students — is struggling in tight state budget times from a decline in enrollment.

When enrollment drops (another 5.9 percent drop at UALR last fall), revenue drops. Adjustments have to be made.

Chancellor Joel Anderson has been his customary forthright self, with regular communications to the faculty that lay out the situation the school faces. Faculty is, naturally, apprehensive. To  date coping plans have entailed expanse cuts and the teaching of more courses by existing faculty rather than the loss of jobs. But in the face of another expected decline in enrollment in the fall of 2015, though less than in 2014, UALR is now considering the possibility of program cuts. Anderson wrote in a memo yesterday to faculty and staff :

The steps envisioned by the Provost and the steps being taken in the other divisions are all important preparation for next year and the likelihood of a continuation of enrollment decline. However, these steps may not be sufficient. We may reach the point where we must eliminate academic programs and focus our resources. Let me stress that this eventuality is not inevitable but is a definite possibility.

Read his memo in full on the jump



TO: UALR Faculty and Staff
FROM: Joel E. Anderson, Chancellor

DATE: March 4, 2015

In my message of February 24, I stated that I would schedule meetings with a number of leadership groups and also with each college faculty. Those meetings have begun to take place. I have met with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the Staff Senate Executive Committee, the Chancellor’s Leadership Group, the Deans Council, and the Chairs Council. I have meetings scheduled with the University Assembly Policy Advisory Council and with the faculties of the College of Education and Health Professions and the College of Business.

My first goal in this series of email messages is to reduce the sense of uncertainty across campus. I expect to address budget further in later messages, but in this message I will offer an overview of the steps we have taken to address the revenue shortfall created by enrollment declines last year and this year, and also the steps I see ahead of us this year and next.

I.

As a point of departure, a sharp national downturn in enrollment began in 2012, and at least in the early years disproportionately occurred among students age 25 and older. Therefore, metropolitan universities such as UALR and others that enroll high percentages of nontraditional students suffered the most significant declines in enrollment. In the fall semester 2013, UALR’s decline was 3.9%. In the fall of 2014, UALR’s decline was 5.9%. UALR has not been alone in Arkansas. Data reported by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education show that the following institutions in Arkansas all saw declines in annual unduplicated headcount enrollment last year, 2013-14: Arkansas State (2.2%), UA Fort Smith (6.5%), UALR (4.8%), UA Monticello (1.5%), and UAPB (6.9%). Of the 22 public, two-year colleges, 19 saw declines, with Pulaski Technical College (12.1%) being second highest among them. At present the enrollment estimate we are working with for the fall 2015 semester (and academic year) is a decline within the range of 0.79% to 3.0%. Whether that range ends up being on target remains to be seen.

II.

As a result of the enrollment declines, UALR’s tuition and fee income dropped a combined total of $6.4 million this year and last year. In order to cut expenses to meet the income loss, we have taken three major steps to reduce permanent expenses, supplemented by the cutting of some one-time funds that were available. We (1) reduced all non-personnel accounts by 10%; (2) implemented early retirement incentives, which have created vacancies; (3) instituted a semi-hard hiring freeze, meaning that we have not refilled many positions that have become vacant through ordinary turnover of personnel.

Retirements and frozen positions in combination have given us important flexibility. By not re-filling positions we have reduced personnel costs. At the same time, we have been able to fund and fill selected positions essential to operations and also reallocate resources to growth areas. Any university’s major cost is in personnel, and the number of vacancies that became available were sufficient in number to make this approach possible. We did not have to lay off people to get to the same level of reduced costs. One consequence, however, is that in numerous units across campus, work that was once done by a former employee in a position that is now vacant has led to a re-sorting of responsibilities and to additional work by current personnel.

III.

The tools we have used to good advantage the past two years have reached the point of diminishing returns and will not help a great deal after this year. In order to determine steps we can take in the near term to meet next year’s budget challenge, I asked the Provost to undertake a review of the units and programs within the academic division, the largest and most complex division. The Provost has done this, with the assistance of a number of ad hoc task forces.

The Provost has studied the task force reports and a large amount of data as a basis for recommendations that she will release this Friday, March 6. The goal is to reduce budgets for next year. Units will have the opportunity to review the data and the recommendations and provide feedback to the Provost before she formulates her final recommendations.

I also asked the Provost to put in motion a similar review of the university’s non-academic centers and institutes. Those reports as she has received them from the task forces will also be forwarded to the centers and institutes this Friday for their review and comments. The steps envisioned by the Provost and the steps being taken in the other divisions are all important preparation for next year and the likelihood of a continuation of enrollment decline. However, these steps may not be sufficient. We may reach the point where we must eliminate academic programs and focus our resources. Let me stress that this eventuality is not inevitable but is a definite possibility. Therefore, during the weeks ahead I will work with academic leaders, including faculty leaders, to develop a broadly acceptable and appropriate review process. The process will have to include a major faculty role and pre-identification of the criteria, information, and data that would need to be available in the process. We all would prefer such a step not be necessary, but if it is, we will work to make it open and fair and constructive.*

IV.

In any one message of reasonable length, I cannot speak to all relevant issues, so I ask for your patience. I will continue to provide information and address concerns that have been voiced and the broad issues that face the university. Our challenges are considerable, and what I say will be realistic and frank. At the same time, I will speak with firm confidence in UALR, in our people, and in our future. I want you to know that I do not feel overwhelmed by our considerable challenges. We have been working through the fall-out of the significant income loss thoughtfully and humanely and will continue to do so.

# # # # #

* Many campuses beyond the borders of Arkansas have experienced enrollment declines or large reductions in state appropriations and have had to take action in response. The Chronicle of Higher Education has carried numerous stories in recent years about such institutions and how they have responded. An article published by the CHE on January 30, 2015, might be of more than usual interest to members of the UALR community. The article by Madeline Will, “The Anatomy of an Academic-Program Cut,” reported campus responses by the University of Southern Maine, University of New Orleans, Delta State University, and Western Carolina University—where Dr. David Belcher, recent provost at UALR, is now chancellor.

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