Expecting additional enrollment decline, Western Kentucky University is weighing a plan to cut $10,177,000 from its fiscal year 2020 budget – $3.4 million of which would come from the university’s academic colleges. The proposed cuts, on top of previous cuts of about $27 million, have WKU faculty “weary” of having to do more with less, according to the University Senate chairman.
The new budget cut plan is a result of recommendations from two university committees, and it was introduced to WKU’s Board of Regents in agenda materials for the group’s second quarterly meeting Friday.
“While improvements in student retention are expected to continue, overall enrollment is expected to decline as fewer students begin postsecondary education,” the fiscal year 2020 budget development update said.
It points to an expected 5 percent decline in revenue from tuition and mandatory student fees.
As much as $3,409,300 – more than a third of the total $10 million target – will come from the university’s five academic colleges. According to the update, the cuts will be achieved over the next fiscal year, which for WKU begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2020.
The remaining $6,767,700 in cuts would come from WKU’s auxiliary and support units, but those have not been finalized yet, the update said. Given that some of those divisions have implemented cuts exceeding 10 percent this year, “an across-the-board reduction is not feasible,” the update said.
The proposed cuts to the colleges are as follows: Gordon Ford College of Business $266,058, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences $391,109, Potter College of Arts and Letters $1,253,585, Ogden College of Science and Engineering $859,895, College of Health and Human Services $638,653.
The update offers few details on where exactly the cuts will be made.
“We have been told that we will not see these until the June meeting,” mathematics professor Claus Ernst wrote in an email.
Ernst serves as faculty regent on WKU’s Board of Regents. He referred to a meeting June 21 during which the board is expected to approve the university’s budget for the following fiscal year.
On top of the enrollment projections, Ernst also noted uncertainty around the passage of a pension bill that could offer the state’s public universities relief from skyrocketing pension contribution costs for their employees.
Gov. Matt Bevin said he plans to call a special session of the General Assembly to pass a similar pension relief bill he vetoed last month. However, according to media reports, top Republican lawmakers have said the replacement bill currently lacks support to pass.
“Due to the pension bill issue there is even more uncertainty than usual for the next year – will we get relief or will (we) pay the higher contribution rates,” Ernst wrote in the email.
University Senate Chairman Kirk Atkinson, who leads the WKU faculty-representative body, said he planned to discuss the cuts with university President Timothy Caboni during a routine meeting with him Tuesday. He plans to share what he can during the University Senate meeting Thursday.
“What exactly do they define as auxiliary and support,” Atkinson said, referring to the biggest question he has following the news. Atkinson added that, if the support services on the chopping block are critical to student success, then “We’ve got some real problems.”
Atkinson said there had been rumors of additional cuts coming, but he was still surprised at the cuts revealed Monday with the release of the board’s agenda materials.
In June of last year, WKU’s Board of Regents approved $27 million in spending cuts, along with a 4 percent tuition increase for students. The plan included eliminating almost 150 positions, 72 of which were filled, and other cutbacks.
Faculty are fed up with yet another round of cuts, Atkinson said, and the uncertainty around the passage of a pension bill has “people held hostage,” he said.
Faculty are “weary” of incessantly being asked to support student success with fewer and fewer resources, and feel that the university’s athletics unit isn’t bearing its fair share.
“I don’t think we’re cutting fat any longer,” he said. “We’re beginning now to cut into muscle and into bone.”