EWU faces $3.6 million budget gap

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EWU faces $3.6 million budget gap

Board of Trustees Chair Uriel Iniguez and President Mary Cullinan listening to the first read of the budgets. They will vote to approve the budgets in June.

Board of Trustees Chair Uriel Iniguez and President Mary Cullinan listening to the first read of the budgets. They will vote to approve the budgets in June.

Taylor Newquist

Board of Trustees Chair Uriel Iniguez and President Mary Cullinan listening to the first read of the budgets. They will vote to approve the budgets in June.

Taylor Newquist

Taylor Newquist

Board of Trustees Chair Uriel Iniguez and President Mary Cullinan listening to the first read of the budgets. They will vote to approve the budgets in June.

By Dylan Harris, News Editor

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EWU is working to address its projected $3.6 million budget gap by eliminating jobs and restructuring various departments and programs.

President Mary Cullinan and Uriel Iñiguez, chair of the board of trustees, sent out an email to faculty and staff on April 8 notifying them of the budget dilemma the school is facing.

“Budget gaps that large are unsustainable for a university our size,” the email said. “They hamper our ability to provide financial assistance to students and to invest in our faculty and staff. Moreover, softening enrollment in winter and spring terms have led us to expect further reductions in the annual budget proposal.”

Mary Voves, the vice president of Business and Finance at EWU, presented the first read of the 2019-2021 operating and capital budgets at a May 10 board of trustees meeting. While state funding, economic changes and some increases in general costs were mentioned as contributing factors to the budget gap, lower than projected enrollment rates also had a drastic impact.

State funding

“The state policy decisions obviously had a number of impacts on us,” Voves said to the board of trustees. “Those were the limitations on tuition authority, the limitation in compensation funding, and then enrollment started to taper in ’16 and in fall of ’18. We really experienced a pretty significant decline.”

Cullinan and Iñiguez said in their email to faculty and staff that “state funding has decreased and is always unpredictable.” Despite past policy decisions that have had effects on state funding, according to the EWU Government Relations website, the 2019 legislative session resulted in “historic outcomes for higher education.”

EWU was able to secure some legislative priorities from the state, including $1.8 million to help with compensation increases. Although this was deemed a win by the university according to the EWU website, the school is still dealing with a change of policy in 2017 that affected funding for higher education employees’ increases in salary and benefits. According to the legislative agenda for EWU’s 2019-2021 state operating budget legislative priorities, about half of compensation increases are covered by the state, a dramatic difference from prior to 2017 when these increases were fully funded.

State funding is just one side of the equation, however.

 

Enrollment rates

“Index one is really what funds the core of our budget,” Voves said. “Those are our traditional, tuition-paying students. … We have experienced some softening of those enrollments.”

The lower enrollment rates may be an issue for EWU in coming years as well.

“We are projecting for ‘20 … that those numbers will continue to soften,” Voves said.

Because many operating expenses, like interest payments, repairs and energy costs, for example, are necessary for the school to be able to operate, there has to be reductions across academic departments and colleges instead, Voves said.. Positions have been and will continue to be eliminated and some layoffs are to be expected.

 

Impacts

“There are a number of impacts,” Voves said. “I’m not going to go through those in detail, because we’re still in the reduction of force process with our employees and with our unions and I want to be sensitive to the people that are being actually laid off and not really reference that.”

Though more specifics will likely be given at a later date, Academic Affairs and Business and Finance will be experiencing the biggest reductions through this first phase of budget realignments because they are the two biggest departments at EWU.

Academic Affairs may decrease its number of deans and consider changes to faculty release times. Predominantly vacant positions have been eliminated too in an effort to cut back costs.

Business and Finance plans to eliminate mostly vacant positions and reduce some positions and position terms. Voves said that “there will be some layoffs in this unit.”

Student Affairs is facing a reduction of direct and operating expenses and will be eliminating some vacant positions. It also plans to reinvest additional savings for the future, particularly into efforts toward improving enrollment rates.

University Advancement will also be eliminating vacant positions, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is reducing one vacant position. Other reductions for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion were absorbed by the Office of the President. The Office of the President will also be realigning some positions and reducing some operating costs.

Athletics is realigning scholarships and grants and is reducing operating costs.

There may be more cuts, however, as the university works through its budget process.

“As we move forward through this,” Voves said. “you will see that we also will be probably expecting further budgetary realignment. … That’s a nice way of saying we’re going to have more cuts as we move forward.”

With declining enrollment rates, EWU is exploring new strategies to attract and retain more students. Angela Jones, the vice president for Student Affairs and Jens Larson, the associate vice president for Enrollment Management, spoke at great length at the May 9 board of trustees work session about factors causing the decrease in enrollment and ideas to improve these rates.

Some of the contributing factors to the decline in enrollment are a steadier economy, greater online competition and the influence of bachelor’s of applied science programs that are being offered at community colleges now. With a lower unemployment rate, like the country is experiencing now, fewer people are getting back into school or starting school, according to Larson. EWU is already attempting to become more competitive in the online education realm by adding a 100% online MBA program. Attracting more transfer students is another concern for the school, as its enrollment projections for transfer students are expected to be down 12%.

 

Looking ahead

Whether it’s the decline in enrollment, changes in state policies, inaccurate projections or a combination of factors that has caused this budget gap, many people and departments at EWU will be affected, some more than others.

“We anticipate that this is the new normal for Eastern,” Voves said. “We will be probably … constantly adjusting our budgets as we move forward.”

Many reductions and cuts will go into effect in July 2019, while the remainder will go into effect in July 2020. Board of trustees and legislative approval of the budgets will happen this coming June.

The Easterner will provide updates as this story continues to develop and more specific information is made available.


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