At a Kutztown University faculty union meeting late Thursday afternoon, local union president, Paul Quinn, shared a letter he sent to the university administration earlier in the day. Quinn was responding to revelations that administrators are projecting an enrollment drop between 2.5% and 4% next year. This news came as a surprise to local union leaders who had been told as recent as a couple of weeks ago that enrollment would remain flat. Quinn began the letter by mincing few words:
I am writing you this letter on behalf of the Meet and Discuss team and the union leadership to express concerns with the enrollment numbers that were presented at the last Meet and Discuss. APSCUF-KU finds the numbers extremely troubling, as well as the fact that no one in the administration seems to be concerned about the drop in enrollment as was presented to us Tuesday. Faculty have already been told that we will have a $9,000,000 deficit for next year. According to the enrollment projections, next year will have an enrollment decrease of about 250 full time students. From what APSCUF-KU has been told in the past, this is an additional $2,500,000 that will be added to the deficit. Is this not alarming to anyone else in the administration?
The continued drop in enrollment comes on the heels of several celebrations in honor of President Javier Cevallos who announced in January that he was leaving KU to become the next president of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. If the drop in enrollment were merely a result of dramatic demographics shifts, that would be one thing. However, the administration’s decision to eliminate virtually all its retention programs for struggling, first-generation, or otherwise “at-risk” students in 2010 – the Advising Center, ACT 101, and the Upward Bound – has had a lasting impact. Not only did faculty union leaders warn the administration that eliminating these programs would negatively impact recruitment and retention, cutting these programs flew in the face of the university’s own report on Early Intervention Initiatives that was produced as part of a Middle States accreditation process in 2004.
By 2012, Kutztown’s administration was scrambling to figure out why enrollment numbers were dropping off a cliff. In October of 2012, the Reading Eagle reported that Kutztown’s enrollment decline was twice that of the other PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities:
Almost 300 fewer students enrolled in Kutztown University in September compared to the previous year.
Since a 2010 peak, Kutztown’s enrollment has dropped 12 percent. The enrollment decline at Kutztown is twice the average drop – 6 percent – seen by the 13 other schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
While Kutztown officials were blaming the 2008 economic crisis and state budget cuts for the decline (no doubt, these did have some affect) administrators were frantically searching for a way to plug the levy, preventing further declines. President Cevallos’s October 2013 “Presidential Update” sounded the “crisis alarm,” refusing to acknowledge their own culpability in producing the crisis. Cevallos wrote:
Almost 300 students have made the decision not to come back to KU to continue their education for this fall semester. While we realize many of our sister institutions and private universities within our region are facing the same situation, the drop we are experiencing this year is much larger than we have had in the past.
Upon learning of this, we immediately identified the students and called them to determine their status and/or reasons for not returning. Although we are still evaluating the information we have gathered, it is evident that we need to become more effective at retaining our students.
As I stated at our opening day gathering, each student we lose seriously impacts our budget. With only 20 percent of funding coming from the commonwealth, and with our operating budget based on our year-to-year enrollment, the student body is our lifeblood.
As a result of this enrollment loss, we face a shortfall of $3 million on top of the reductions we have already made. I have decided to cover this gap with carry over funds on a one time basis to meet the deficit in the current year. Although this is only a temporary solution, it will provide us with time to thoughtfully consider base budget reductions, beginning next year, in the context of our mission.
I want to stress the importance of our role in student retention. We all need to go above and beyond to assist our students in persisting and graduating from KU. It is crucial to the future of our university and the region.
I urge you all to put our students first, and do whatever you can to make KU a place they will take great pride in. It is really going to take each and every one of us to help KU overcome this challenge in the future.
While urging faculty and staff to “do more with less,” Cevallos and his finance people were busy launching a plan to recreate the very programs they eliminated in 2010 with one key difference. This time around Cevallos would create a whole new layer of upper-level managers and vice presidents in charge of “enrollment management.” In true “shock doctrine” fashion, Cevallos and his team of Vice Presidents had created a crisis and then pushed for an expansion managerial resources and authority.
In Quinn’s letter to the administration on Thursday, he rails on the administration for lavish spending on a “solution” that did not work:
When the administration first presented the position of Vice-President for Enrollment Management, APSCUF-KU was very skeptical. The position, with all the support staff and renovations of office space, was going to cost well over $700,000. These costs were going to be paid using strategic initiative money, which are essentially one-time funds, while the enrollment issue was being corrected. Administration told APSCUF-KU that spending money on the new position to increase enrollment would result in a net gain of funds for the university. On this premise, APSCUF-KU reluctantly supported the administration’s initiative to hire the position now held by Kimberly Scranage.
Before hiring Ms. Scranage, the administration created a budget for 2014-2015 based on a 2.5 % increase in enrollment. When questioning where these projections came from, APSCUF-KU was told Cabinet had worked on these numbers in consultation with the consulting firm hired to look at enrollment. It was extremely troubling when Ms. Scranage was hired, and to her credit, told faculty that she had not been involved in the creation of these projections. She maintained that a flat enrollment projection was a much more realistic goal. Again, reluctantly, APSCUF-KU supported this initiative from the administration because Ms. Scranage was energetic and confident that maintaining our enrollment was achievable. As recently as a month ago, Ms. Scranage presented projections showing that flat enrollment would be maintained, and stated that the University would not have to worry about losing students this year. Other faculty heard her presentation and spread the word.
Two weeks ago, APSCUF-KU received an email from one of the chairs of LAS, stating that enrollment projections were not flat, but were in fact, down by about 4%. APSCUF-KU obtained a copy of this report before many other administrators did. That in itself concerns me. You [Provost Carlos Vargas-Aburto] are the chief academic officer. Shouldn’t these numbers be forwarded to the provost and discussed with your management team before released to ANY faculty member? On Tuesday, you presented APSCUF-KU with numbers showing a 2.7% decrease.
What seems to have put union leaders over the edge, however, was the administration’s latest solution to the enrollment crisis. Their solution? Hire yet another top-level manager. Because it worked so well the last time around. Here’s Quinn again,
Despite the deficit of $9,000,000 and now the added deficit of about $2,500,000, the administration is insisting on hiring an additional manager in the office of Enrollment Management. APSCUF-KU VEHEMENTLY opposes any new hires in this area until the university is in a better position to do so. The faculty have already been asked to take a leap of faith with the hiring of the new vice-president, which has failed to produce the results promised to the faculty last year. This is not the fault of Ms. Scranage, but rather, just the accumulation of multiple problems existing over multiple years. Ms. Scranage has done good work with admissions and implementing improvements to that process. That being said, it is not fair to the academic side, and fiscally irresponsible of the administration to hire another enrollment manager with a potential $12,000,000 deficit.
This is the world we live in now. Those people who actually do the work to keep an institution, a company, a university running are told “We’re broke! Tighten your belt! Do more with less!” But when it comes to shelling out large sums of money to those at the top, the money flows generously.
The administration’s crisis talk borders on the grotesque when you consider what the university has in its “Unrestricted Net Assets” account. Unrestricted Net Assets is the name given to all funds that a university administration can use at their discretion. That is, we’re not talking about funds that are legally designated for specific buildings or programs. These are the funds that administrators dole out for what they WANT – their desires. In 2010, when President Cevallos and his administration were running around telling faculty and staff “We’re broke! Crisis! Crisis!,” it turns out that the university was sitting on over $29 million in Unrestricted Net Assets (you can read all about that here). As it turned out, Kutztown was second only to West Chester University in terms of its financial health. That didn’t seem to matter as the university plowed ahead cutting faculty and programs.
In this lastest round of “crisis” it turns out that Kutztown does not have $29.1 million sitting in the bank – it has about 60% MORE. You did not miss read that. According to the administration’s own data, as of 11/15/2013 (the last set of figures available) Kutztown was sitting on $48,695,460 in Unrestricted Net Assets.
Here’s the figures for June 2013:
And here’s November 2013:
This past April, Steve Hicks the outgoing president of the state-wide faculty union, visited Kutztown University’s campus. At the local union’s representative council meeting, Hicks said that he has indications that 7 to 10 PASSHE university presidents may send notifications that they may pursue deeper cuts in faculty and academic programs – retrenchment is the fancy term for it. Hicks made it clear that the possibility of retrenchment has little to nothing to do with the universities’ actual financial health. Hicks said he believed that PASSHE university presidents had figured out that by screaming “We’re broke!” and then threatening to gut faculty and academic programs, they can get things they want without having to negotiate. It’s about power.
Kutztown University students will be graduating this Saturday. Last year, right before graduation, Cevallos and his administration tried to slip through a new weapons policy when no one was looking. That cause quite a stir. This year, Cevallos is trying another May surprise – just one more vice president hire before he heads up I-95 to start the process all over again. Just one more rotten egg before fleeing the coup.