Cali Owings, Published September 23 2013
MSUM to offer early retirements to ease projected $4.9 million deficit
President Edna Szymanski confirmed Monday the school is looking for about 45 faculty and staff members to take early separation packages to reduce a projected $4.9 million deficit for fiscal year 2015.
She said the reduction will help “right-size” so the number of faculty matches a recent decline in student enrollment – the major cause behind the budget shortfall.
Enrollment has declined in recent years because the school has stopped admitting students who weren’t prepared to be successful and instead referred them to community college partners.
At one point, Szymanski said, one-fifth of students enrolled at MSUM did not have a high probability of success.
In 2010, the school moved to a more success-based model for enrollment.
MSUM had about 640 more students enrolled in 2006 than it did throughout 2013.
Morally, Szymanski said she is OK with the deficit if it means the school is no longer “balancing the budget on the backs of students who aren’t prepared to be successful.”
Despite the falling student numbers, Szymanski said MSUM did not cut a corresponding number of faculty positions.
MSUM boasts an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio – among the lowest in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Szymanski said even with a reduction in faculty due to the early retirement option, the school’s student-to-faculty ratio will remain low.
Determined to balance the budget by the time she retires in June 2014, Szymanski said early retirement offerings are just one part of MSUM’s attempt to cut costs.
A hiring pause already in effect since early August will also affect the deficit. The school has several vacancies that remain unfilled during the “selective hiring” period.
The school is also working with departments to consider offering smaller classes less frequently, which could reduce the number of adjunct positions every semester.
Szymanski said she hopes enough people will volunteer so layoffs can be avoided and to keep it “as humane as possible.”
The school has previously avoided layoffs through rounds of early retirement offerings in 2009 and 2010.
The details of the early retirement offers were not available.
The incentives will be determined on “an individual basis in accordance with their contract,” said Dave Wahlberg, MSUM director of marketing and communications. It will include a percentage of salary and benefits in exchange for retiring earlier than planned.
Notices will be sent to faculty in mid-October, Wahlberg said. The school plans to have everything settled by mid-December.
Szymanski characterized the early retirements as a “short-term loss” because the enrollment change – even with the deficit – was the right move for students and the university.
“We’re really trying to do what’s right for the students,” she said.
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Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599