Last week, West Virginia University announced a preliminary plan to address the institution’s $45M budget hole. WVU is the state’s flagship university, and the budget cuts are the first in the institution’s history. According to news reports, the cuts will affect about 10% of the school’s academic programs in one way or another. The cuts include reducing or eliminating degree programs at all levels and terminating 7% of the school’s full-time faculty – 169 people.
Most of the program terminations will affect graduate level studies; however, the budget cuts also include 12 undergraduate majors. WVU’s proposed plan would eliminate all foreign language instruction. E. Gordon Gee, the president of WVU, suggested that the school may partner with a third-party to provide foreign language instruction to WVU students. In addition to foreign language budget cuts, the proposal also calls for the elimination of all English as a Second Language instruction.
WVU has also asked colleges within the university to propose course eliminations for programs that will remain otherwise intact. WVU’s Board of Governors will consider the recommendations at their September 15 meeting. If approved, the university will begin sending out termination notices in October. The terminations will become effective for the 2024-25 academic year.
According to WVU, the budget cuts are necessary due to sharp declines in enrollment, which began in 2015. WVU’s overall enrollment has dropped by 10% in that time. In 2015, WVU reported an undergraduate enrollment of 24,176 and a graduate enrollment of 8,288. In 2021, the last year for which enrollment data are available in the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), WVU’s reported enrollment included an undergraduate enrollment of 22,237 and a graduate enrollment of 6,915. WVU’s undergraduate enrollment declined by 8%, while graduate enrollment dropped by 16.5%.
Budget cuts can’t be limited to instruction
West Virginia has 22 community colleges with a combined enrollment in 2021 of 34,200 students. In 2015, the system reported a combined enrollment of about 41,400. That represents a drop of 17%. So, the enrollment drop in West Virginia is not unique to WVU, but each institution needs to solve its own budgetary problems.
WVU hasn’t given any indication of what other budget cuts it plans to make in non-academic areas. WVU reported that it enrolled about 1,000 fewer students than planned for the current fiscal year. According to the institution’s current budget data, that would have accounted for approximately $17.3M in lost revenue, which is less than 39% of the school’s reported budget shortfall.
There is no doubt that the US is well under capacity in its higher education institutions. In that regard, some contraction is in order. But higher education administrators cannot expect their academic divisions to bear the bulk of the budget cuts, when those divisions don’t represent the bulk of the shortfall. Nor is it right to expect the enrolled students to pick up the slack.
WVU – and other institutions in the same circumstances – should carefully examine all non-instructional expenses for all potential reductions. That includes reconciling the cost and size of the institution’s administration with its reduced enrollment. After all, if an institution no longer needs as many classrooms and instructors, it can probably also get by with fewer managers, directors, and vice presidents.
Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM , via Flickr