How one campus absorbed $12M in cuts but stayed true to its academic mission

Using alumni instead of consultants help build faculty trust in the plan

In the face of a nearly 25% drop in state funding, University of Wisconsin (UW) Eau Claire officials developed a plan to absorb the loss while protecting academics, Kellie Woodhouse reports for Inside Higher Ed.

The cuts came as part of the two-year, $250 million loss in the state budget and extension of a tuition freeze, which left a $12.3 million hole in Eau Claire's budget.

The school will receive $22.1 million of its $82.2 million operating budget from the state. About 75% of Eau Claire's funding now comes from tuition.

And while campus officials are doing their best to keep the loss in funds from affecting students, it has certainly affected campus morale, says Chancellor James Schmidt.

What will and will not change

Eau Claire used about a dozen alumni with business experience to guide their path forward, which helped maintain faculty trust in the changes.

Initiatives aimed at increasing first-year student retention and graduation rates will continue, as will study abroad and internship offerings.

Meanwhile, about 11% of campus positions, most of them administrative, will be eliminated through voluntary buyouts, attrition, and letting contracts expire.

Cuts include:

  • Seven—or 25% of—senior-level administrators for projected a $684,000 in annual savings;
  • 20% of administrative and academic support staff for a projected $460,000 in annual savings;
  • 38 full- and part-time lecturers.

How to centralize academic advising services

 Along with the lost positions come restructured departments and services:

  • A central student-services center handling financial aid, registration, housing contracts, meal plans, and parking fees for $300,000 in expected annual savings;
  • A central student advising center where each adviser will be responsible for 300 students;
  • A central administrative services center responsible for purchasing and expenses tasks for $380,000 in expected annual savings; and
  • Facility efficiencies for an expected savings of $1.8 million.

"We're doing the best we can to maintain the integrity of our academic program, our mission, but at least for the next couple of years there will be some challenges for students," said Mitchell Freymiller, a biology department senior lecturer and chair of the University Senate.

Classes will be larger and sections offered less frequently.

"There's a lot of trepidation because obviously we're talking pretty dramatic change over a pretty short window of time… academics, as a whole, we don't deal well with change," says Geoffrey Peterson, political science department chair and campus faculty representative to the UW System.

Faculty members are less frustrated with Eau Claire's administration and more with the state government, he said.

Now campus officials must look forward to 2017 and the next state budget, which may result in event more cuts.

"The big question is, how do we change the narrative in the capital so it doesn't happen again," Peterson says. "The truth is, if it happens again, that's where you start to have real problems. That's when you have entire departments close at multiple campuses... That's when you're going to see a real bloodletting" (Woodhouse, Inside Higher Ed, 7/29).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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