Between 15 and 20 Kentucky State University employees could lose their jobs this year as the administration tries to fill a $4.8 million budget hole caused by low enrollment this fall.
KSU President Mary Sias, speaking to faculty, staff and students Thursday during her annual State of the University address, said enrollment is down by 223 students over last year – an 8 percent drop.
More important, fall’s enrollment of 2,524 is about 400 students fewer than university leaders predicted when they built this year’s budget.
That, combined with another $2.5 million taken from reserves that must be replaced, means a total of $7.3 million that officials must cut between the current budget and next year’s plan, Sias said.
“The bottom line is, we have to cut $7.3 million, and everywhere I know, that’s a lot of money,” she said Thursday.
Starting Monday, the university will freeze all vacant positions, an effort that should save about $3 million. Hiring may still continue for positions funded by grants or research, or in roles that are absolutely necessary, Sias said.
“Like most institutions, our greatest cost is our people,” she said. “They also represent our greatest value.”
Jobs will be eliminated in areas that are “not central to our mission and strategic plan,” she said. Overstaffed areas may be trimmed, she said, and adjunct staff may face cuts. Academic programs that have failed to meet enrollment or graduation goals are also at risk.
Laid off employees could find work in other departments where some federally funded positions have been held open, she said.
The cuts will take place over the course of the year, not all at once, Sias said. She will present a revised budget and reorganization plan to the Board of Regents later this month.
Sias said funding for KSU is 11 percent lower than it was in 2005 – a year after she arrived in Frankfort.
“All universities, especially small, comprehensive ones like KSU, must rethink their business model,” she said.
Sias attributed the enrollment drop primarily to students who can’t afford tuition or have unpaid bills. University officials surveyed about 200 students who signed up for classes this fall, but never arrived, and 70 percent said money was an issue.
“Many of them plan on coming back in the spring, or no later than the fall,” she said.
“But the bottom line is, their (federal) Pell money went down … and 73 percent of our enrolled students are Pell eligible.”
Other students had personal problems or family issues that kept them from enrolling, but “some of the students had horrible problems with customer service” at KSU.
“Phones didn’t work, or they weren’t picked up, they didn’t get monies on time, they couldn’t get answers on time,” she said.
“Our students have to know that we will take care of them, and we will – we’re fixing the problem.”
Sias said one position that will be added is an ombudsman for students. She said university staff would receive “rigorous customer service training” to resolve any issues that students have within 24 hours.
“I want our staff to know, if you see two students leave us, you just lost $28,000 to $38,000 – that’s somebody’s job,” she continued.
“Think about that. Every time you look up, and you think it’s time to go home, and there’s still two or three students left in the line, keep that line open and service them.”
Positions will also be added for a marketing specialist and a chief information officer to oversee technology and social media, she said.
The KSU Board of Regents unanimously approved a $61.8 million budget in June, which included a hiring freeze, a 5 percent tuition increase and the use of $2.5 million in savings to overcome an $8.1 million shortfall.
Sias told the board in April that the deficit was the biggest she’s seen since coming to Frankfort eight years ago, in part due to a $1.6 million cut in state revenue.
The university also has a new business program and an expanding agriculture operation that need more staff, and fixed costs like utilities and fuel are going up, she said.
Sias plans to meet further with faculty and staff this week. The Board of Regents will discuss the revised budget and organizational structure at an Oct. 26 meeting.