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ST. CLOUD — St. Cloud State University will phase out six majors and cut three dozen jobs in the wake of a looming $18.3 million deficit projected for the upcoming school year, according to leaders at the central Minnesota school.

The majors to be phased out are philosophy, theater, nuclear medicine technology, real estate and insurance at the undergraduate level, as well as marriage and family therapy at the graduate level.

Students currently enrolled in those majors, the number of which ranges from one student majoring in insurance to 30 students majoring in real estate, will be able to finish their degree programs. But the suspension of those majors will allow the university to reallocate resources into programs with higher demand and dig out of the deficit, according to St. Cloud State President Robbyn Wacker, who announced the budget cuts Wednesday.

"It just makes sense to refresh and renew and re-examine — based on the 'It's Time' framework — what makes sense for degree offerings," she said, referencing the strategy launched in 2019 that refines the university's niche study areas and student experience.

The university will also lay off 23 faculty and 14 staff, which will save more than $4.1 million in the coming year, as well as offer early separation incentives for employees to help pick away at the university's structural deficit, which leaders define as a chronic gap between the revenue and expenses. In recent years, the structural deficit has been exacerbated by the steady enrollment decline — which wasn't met with a similar decline in staffing levels — and the pandemic.

"We just can't keep our fingers crossed anymore. We just have to do it," Wacker said, noting university leaders hope the budget cuts and other operational adjustments will reduce the deficit to a point where the university's revenues outpace expenses by 2026.

"Hopefully our key stakeholders, our community, our legislators — everybody — sees we're making the correction that we need to be fiscally sustainable," Wacker added. "We have to be good stewards."

Enrollment drops

The student headcount at St. Cloud State has dropped from more than 18,000 in 2010 to about 10,000 last fall. But not only are the numbers dropping, the students are changing: Nearly 50% of students are part-time, about 25% are under 18 and enrolled in postsecondary classes, and about 10% are 35 and older.

There are also fewer traditional students — recent high school graduates looking for a four-year degree — than in previous decades because of declining birthrates beginning in the 1990s, changes in perception around the importance of undergraduate degrees, and more education options such as for-profit and online colleges.

A plan for the future

University leaders see promise in the "It's Time" plan, which focuses on expanding the student base by simplifying the transfer process, diversifying online and hybrid class options and offering more options for credentials such as badges, certificates and professional development courses.

The plan also focuses on honing in on four niche education areas: holistic health and wellness, education, leadership, and engineering and applied science.

Larry Lee, vice president for finance and administration, joined the administration last year after learning about the university's new strategy. Lee has more than 25 years experience in higher education and most recently worked at Coe College in Iowa.

"I'm increasingly perplexed by the slowness at which we are responding as an industry. So, one day I was looking at a website and I found this strategy called, 'It's Time,'" Lee said. "I caught myself getting more and more excited. Not only is that a good plan for that university, I think it's a plan … to be emulated across the nation."

St. Cloud State leaders hope the strategy will help grow enrollment to 13,000 by 2028.

"We've got the plan. We know where we're going," Wacker said. "We have to move forward in this way because our students deserve it, our employees deserve it, and the community deserves that, too — a vibrant university."