ST. CLOUD — Just weeks after university leaders here announced cuts amid financial woes, its problems have worsened and cuts have been deepened.
Previously, St. Cloud State University had publicly said two dozen faculty jobs would be phased out next year. Now some 100 more faculty will be cut within five years. An $18 million budget deficit in fall 2023 will grow to $24.5 million the following year. And the phasing out of a handful of majors has expanded as the school freezes fall enrollment on 70 programs and minors.
The additional faculty reductions will come from more layoffs, as well as early separation agreements and unfilled vacancies. But only next year's layoffs have been announced, leaving faculty with anxiety about what's to come.
"Everybody's morale is just kaput," said Carolyn Hartz, department chair for philosophy, which is one major being phased out over the next few years.
Meanwhile, the major online programming push the president has said will help raise enrollment and revenue has been put on pause by the Minnesota State system.
In April, St. Cloud State President Robbyn Wacker announced the university will cut at least 20 faculty jobs for the coming year to help reduce the deficit. Plans also call for reductions of about 60 faculty in 2025, and reductions of about three-dozen faculty over the following three years. Administrators say the plan will help cut the deficit to about $9 million by fall 2025 and get the university to a surplus of about $5 million by fall 2026.
On Wednesday, Wacker sent an email to faculty listing her final decisions on the cuts to staff and programming that were proposed in April. Other majors and minors Wacker confirmed will be phased out are theater, real estate and religious studies at the undergraduate level, plus marriage and family therapy at the graduate level. Students enrolled in those programs will be able to finish their degree programs but no new students will be accepted.
The university also said it will suspend admissions in 70 degrees, certificates and minors to help streamline programming. During a webinar Thursday, Wacker told faculty about 80% of the programs being suspended have fewer than three students and, in several of those instances, similar degrees are available. After those cuts, the university will have about 240 degrees, minors and certificates.
University leaders attribute the chronic budget deficit to a steady enrollment decline that wasn't met with a similar reduction in staffing levels, as well as instructional costs that are the highest among the seven Minnesota State universities.
The student head count at St. Cloud State has dropped from more than 16,000 in 2013 to about 10,000 last fall. During that time, when the student headcount fell about 38%, staff levels were only reduced by about 22%, Wacker said.
Not only are the numbers dropping, the students are changing: Nearly 50% of students are part-time, and about 25% are younger than 18 and enrolled in postsecondary classes.
Wacker says the cuts will save money and better align programming with the so-called "It's Time" strategy that launched a few years ago. The strategy emphasizes being a leader in four academic areas — holistic health and wellness, applied science and engineering, education and leadership — as well as improving student experience and better reaching nontraditional learners.
That plan relies heavily on a push for new accelerated online programs that are intended to reach adult learners who want to complete their college education. Wacker has said these accelerated programs likely will increase enrollment, especially with working adults and historically marginalized individuals, because the classes are flexible and online.
The university is planning to launch 11 undergraduate accelerated programs this fall with Academic Partnerships, a for-profit online program management company owned by a private equity firm. University leaders are banking on the online programs netting $10 million a year by 2026. They say it will grow enrollment by 3,000 students in five years.
St. Cloud State is the only university in the Minnesota State system that has a partnership with an online program manager, according to Jenna Chernega, president of the Inter Faculty Organization, the union for faculty at the seven universities in the system. Both the Inter Faculty Organization and St. Cloud State faculty association are questioning the partnership.
"Is this in the best interests of the institution or is this an enroll-as-fast-as-possible kind of scheme that ultimately will end up financially being detrimental?" Chernega asked.
Many online program management companies are being scrutinized by the federal government because some students have complained about not receiving the same value of education through online programs. The companies receive about half the student tuition dollars to host the online courses and help colleges with recruitment.
The federal Education Department is now asking state offices to provide additional information about partnerships with online program managers. Last week, the Minnesota State system implemented a pause on new programs run through online program managers and asked St. Cloud State to hold off on launching its ad campaign for the new programs.
"The system office has had to put into place a new process to get that information and to ensure new programs run through an [online program manager] are meeting quality standards, have been vetted through shared governance, have the backing and buy-in of faculty and are financially sustainable," Chernega said.
"It's something that we're very concerned about — being asked to transform all of our classes into seven-week classes completely online," said Stephen Philion, chair of the Sociology Department. "This isn't just putting classes online. This is putting classes online with a private corporation."
Mumbi Mwangi, incoming president of the faculty association at St. Cloud State, said faculty repeatedly have asked about the university's relationship and plans with Academic Partnerships.
"Most of the time they will say 'those are trade secrets,' and that is the end of the answering of questions," Mwangi said. "So this is something that was created and the faculty were told, 'OK, this is what we are doing' and 'toe the line.'"
In Wacker's Wednesday email to faculty, she refuted allegations that the administration wasn't transparent about its plans.
"We believe that we have engaged consistently, authentically, openly and respectfully," she said.
A university spokesperson said Friday the university will oversee applications, course development and instruction, and advising students on the new programs, and that Academic Partnerships will offer marketing expertise and technical assistance with admissions as well as provide the online platform.
The spokesman said Academic Partnerships "can help us bring a program to market and maturity faster than we can act, and helps us find and tap new students markets, and scale programs more effectively than we could ever possibly do on our own."