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UW-Stevens Point Provost: Program Cuts, Faculty Layoffs ‘Unavoidable’

$4.5M Structural Deficit Caused By Declining Enrollment After Years Of State Budget Cuts

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point faces a structural deficit of $4.5 million. Glen Moberg/WPR

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is looking at cutting academic majors and laying off faculty to deal with a $4.5 million structural deficit.

The school is projecting a $2.5 million deficit in 2019 and a $2 million deficit in 2020 because of declining enrollment.

Greg Summers, UW-Stevens Point provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, said layoffs could involve tenured faculty.

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“Ninety percent of the university’s budget is in personnel, and so to deal with a structural deficit of the size that we have, will unavoidably involve the layoff of personnel,” Summers said.

Over the past several years, enrollment has declined as UW-Stevens Point has graduated seniors faster than it can enroll freshmen. One reason may be because fewer high school graduates are entering the market for higher education.

“Our graduation rate has been increasing, and that’s a very good thing for students, but it means that our overall enrollment has been going down, because we’re not able to recruit students to keep pace with the rising graduation rate,” Summers said. “Many of our financial challenges actually come from our academic success of graduating students at a faster rate.”

Years of state budget cuts and tuition freezes have compounded the university’s financial problems, Summers said.

“We’ve had years of shifting of public funding away from universities and the resulting need to look more at tuition dollars to supplement budgets. Given the tuition freeze that we’ve been in for five years now, that’s put a pinch on possible revenues,” Summers said. “In the 1970s the university received about 50 percent of our budget from state sources. Today that number is down to about 13 percent.”

According to numbers supplied by the university, the school has been hit with more than $9.6 million in net state budget cuts since the 2011-12 school year.

In the 2015-16 school year, state cuts to UW-Stevens Point’s general purpose revenue was more than $5.75 million with an additional $570,500 in cuts to segregated program funds.

Just $666,500 of those cuts were restored by the state budget increase signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2017.

UW-Stevens Point’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year is nearly $208 million.

Summers said if the financial problems aren’t turned around, they could eventually impact UW-Marathon County in Wausau and UW-Marshfield/Wood County, which will become branch campuses of UW-Stevens Point under the UW Board of Regents recently approved reorganization plan.

“At some point their budget becomes our budget and if we’re not able to restore enrollment to their institutions, we’ll haver to deal with the deficit of our combined institution,” he said.

Despite the financial problems, Summers said UW-Stevens Point will be able to adjust.

“There’s all kinds of opportunities at the university,” Summers said. “We don’t consider ourselves in trouble. We’re simply having to pivot and reposition the university to deal with a new financial environment, and that’s what institutions do all the time.”