Eastern Washington University’s board of trustees on Thursday approved a 3% cut to the school’s operating budget for fiscal 2020.
A presentation from the trustees’ meeting documents indicates about half of the $3.6 million budget reduction is due to shrinking enrollment forecasts.
EWU expects to enroll 9,585 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students this fall – the lowest total fall enrollment since 2011, according to the presentation. Total fall enrollment peaked with 11,227 students in 2016.
The documents say other causes for the budget shortfall include financial aid programs for student athletes and unfunded employee compensation, which EWU leaders have blamed on a change in state law that puts the university on the hook for a bigger share of pay raises.
EWU departments were asked last fall to submit budget reduction plans, limit overtime and travel expenses, and avoid filling vacant positions. The administration also canceled a pay increase for non-unionized employees that was scheduled to kick in at the start of 2019.
EWU spokesman Lance Kissler said 22 vacant positions were eliminated earlier this year while employees in 10 other positions were laid off, asked to work fewer hours or not replaced after leaving voluntarily.
Additionally, Kissler said, the university opted not to rehire some adjunct faculty members, who work on short-term contracts, and offered voluntary buyouts to 55 tenured faculty members. Layoffs are possible if enough faculty members don’t take the early retirement offer by Aug. 30, Kissler said.
“We tried to have as little of an impact as possible but could not avoid it altogether,” he said.
Declining enrollment at colleges and universities is sometimes attributed to a strong economy; when unemployment is low, people might choose to take available jobs instead of going to school for more advanced credentials.
Chris Valeo, an English professor who is finishing her term as president of EWU’s Faculty Organization, expressed confidence Thursday in the university’s efforts to recruit and retain students.
Within EWU’s academic affairs department, which includes all educational programs, Valeo said she hopes there will be no additional reductions in faculty.
“I think we took all the cuts we could take within academic affairs,” she said.
Also Thursday, the trustees voted to extend the contract of President Mary Cullinan through Sept. 1, 2022.
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