Financially troubled Eastern Washington University said Tuesday it plans to cut 68 faculty positions in two years, raise its student-to-teacher ratio and launch new vocational-oriented programs.
The school also intends to boost enrollment by returning to an emphasis on recruiting Inland Northwest students, mandating advisers for all freshmen and giving away more education to the needy.
The changes are part of a proposal to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board in Olympia, which wants to know how Eastern plans to win back 1,000 students it has lost since 1993.
If it likes the plan, the board may release $3.2 million this fall that Eastern’s administration is counting on to run the Cheney-based university. State lawmakers placed the money in a reserve account earlier this year, saying it cannot be released until university enrollment rebounds.
The 33-page proposal is Eastern’s plan to survive as a four-year, regional university in a rapidly changing world where a college degree can be earned on the Internet and employers are offering $35,000 per year to some Spokane Community College graduates with technical degrees.
Brian Levin-Stankevich, vice provost for student affairs and enrollment management, said the plan carves out an identity for the school that will make it competitive for students it has lost, or never reached.
“Big research universities know what they are and small private schools know what they are, but it’s those of us in the middle who are trying to figure out where we fit in,” he said.
“If we can say who we are, and what we do well and focus on those areas, I think we’ll do very well.”
Eastern’s enrollment, based on the number of students taking a full load of classes, shrank from 7,635 in 1993 to an estimated 6,658 this fall. Fall enrollment will be nearly 300 less than last year.
Eastern’s plan is subject to change, but time is running out for action. Officials are counting on the money for the current academic year, making the university vulnerable to a financial disaster if the HEC Board refuses its plea to release the money. Without board approval, there are no alternatives for Eastern to access the funds.
“If the university is required to retrench to a much smaller size, there is doubt that even its regional mission can be performed effectively,” the proposal states.
HEC Board deputy director Linda Schactler said Eastern delayed submitting its proposal until Monday.
After an initial review of the document, she said the university may have missed a deadline for the nine-member board to formally consider the plan in September.
“It’s a first draft: Our reaction is it needs more work,” Schactler said.
Under Eastern’s plan, teachers accounting for a total of 42 full-time positions would be issued termination notices Aug. 31, becoming effective a year later and saving the school $1.84 million. The university currently has 418 faculty positions, with a payroll of $22.7 million.
Another 26 positions would be eliminated in 1999 as the university adjusts its student-to-teacher ratio from 17:1 to 21:1.
The largest faculty cuts would come in the university’s liberal arts College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, the plan says. The college, which offers programs in English, creative writing, criminal justice and social services, would slice 27 positions from the ranks of 155 full-time posts.
“If I had to eliminate 27 people tomorrow it would be very difficult,” said Dean Edmund Yarwood.
“There’s been a real de-emphasis nationwide on studies of liberal arts,” he added. “It seems that students are picking more practical majors.”
The popular Running Start program for high schoolers also has reduced demand for university liberal arts courses, Yarwood said. Running Start lets ambitious students enroll in first-year liberal arts classes at community colleges while finishing their high school degree.
However, Eastern has not given up on liberal arts, or retreated from the success of community colleges. Through a realignment of faculty and other resources, Eastern proposes adding and expanding dozens of programs that would appeal to community college transfers and older professionals who want to be retrained.
Under the plan, students could enter a program to become a certified financial planner, obtain advanced certification in Microsoft computer programs, or earn new or expanded undergraduate or graduate degrees in occupational therapy, dental hygiene, teaching and fine arts.
Some students could simultaneously be admitted to the Community Colleges of Spokane and Eastern to lock in academic requirements for a four-year program of their choice.
“I couldn’t think of a better time to be an Eastern student,” said Levin-Stankevich. “You’ll get a lot of personal attention.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Eastern Washington University enrollment