Editor's Note: This is a news release from Western New Mexico University about a meeting held with its employees this morning. Following the meeting, President Joseph Shepard held a press conference. An additional article will report on the press conference.
Plan to be in place by March
Silver City, NM – Western New Mexico University announced at its December 2013 Board of Regents meeting that it expects to trim the current operating budget by over $1.3 million and restructure its budget to be more responsive to providing the appropriate high quality programs for the students of tomorrow. The university has begun the process of revamping its strategic plan to meet the needs of future students and is now embarking on revising its budget to be more in line with future projectionsrather than past operations. In the short term, the process will involve appropriate cuts to bring expenses in line with revenues, ultimately shifting resources to programs that are responsive to student demands.
In August, WNMU had projected a five percent student enrollment increase that did not materialize. Investments made based on the projected increase in enrollment means adjustments must be made to keep the university in a position of strength and better poised for the future. The university’s current enrollment is flat compared to enrollment numbers a year ago.
“Like any business, whether it is the local mine or us, you cannot have expenses exceed revenues and hope to survive in the long run,” said WNMU President Joseph Shepard. “We are not in a financial crisis, but given our early projections, we must act prudently now to ensure that we take corrective budgetary action. Cutting a budget is never a pleasant task, but is a necessary one given the current dynamics of our enrollment. In addition to bringing the expenses in line with revenues, the budget will be restructured to be more responsive to those programs that are performing and having a student demand now and into the future.”
Among cost saving considerations are halting many of the ongoing faculty and staff position openings currently advertised. This involves a reexamination of the hiring of four additional Deans to lead a newly created college structure. Instead, the university administration team, with input from faculty, will evaluate the need for these Deans and consider other options to achieve similar leadership. Faculty and staff positions that are currently advertised will be re-examined to determine ifthey still fit within the emerging direction of the university.
The university is also examining existing faculty and staff positions. Because of the expected enrollment, WNMUinvested in hiring an additional 24 faculty members over the last two years. While the university boasts a low student to faculty ratio of 13 to 1, such a ratio is unsustainable given low tuition costs that average around $4,700 per year. With the State of New Mexico introducing a new funding formula that rewards universities based on outcomes, WNMU is working with the legislature and the local delegation to ensure that the university receives its fair share of state resources. Presently one in five of WNMU’s graduate students are not funded by the state and approximately 24.8 percent of its undergraduates students are not part of the university’s base funding. WNMU will seek the support of the state legislature to rectify this situation during the upcoming Legislative Session.
“A natural remedy often proposed in other states is to increase the tuition substantially, thereby increasing revenues. I believe that we have a responsibility to keep our cost affordable to students and reduce expenses instead,” Shepard noted.
Because over 80 percent of the operating budget involves personnel, a reduction of the budget will impact existing positions and could involve furloughs and layoffs. The university is examining low performing programs and areas that may be consolidated. A plan will be formulated to eliminate degrees with insufficient demand and degree programs that do not adequatelyserve the university’s mission or are not adequately supported by the State of New Mexico’s new funding formula. WNMU is currently undergoing a reexamination of its strategic plan that will guide this decision-making process. Classes will be consolidated that do not meetenrollment targets. WNMU’s commitment to current students is to ensure it offers classes needed to complete degrees.
“The world of higher education is highly competitive with a student’s ability to take online classes from literally anywhere and from any university. For WNMU to survive and thrive, we need to take the appropriate measures now to strategically position ourselves for the future. This means that as we restructure our budget, we should do so with an eye on where we are going, not where we have been,” Shepard said. “This is a good opportunity to evaluate all programs and expenses and align resources with the strategic direction of the university. Cost savings decisions will be more strategic as to which programs are underperforming and which programs have a higher likelihood of being viable in WNMU’s future not necessarily what position or area was most recently created.”
The university has identified various strategic advantages. With a low faculty to student ratio, a greater individualized attention to students can be achieved. This could have a positive impact on retaining and recruiting students and will be emphasized as a revised recruitment plan is implemented to target students in neighboringstates. WNMU noted that it could no longer be a hidden treasure and needs to identify ways to highlight its excellence and its commitment to high quality education.
The university plans to have budget reduction goals identified by the end of March.