Dear Griffon Nation,
During this difficult and unprecedented time, we hope that this email finds you and your loved ones well. We also want to express our heartfelt gratitude for your support of Missouri Western State University. At the same time, I invite you to spend a few minutes reading and digesting the information below. Please excuse the length of this message.
Because of the gravity of our current situation and the importance of taking measures to sustain the University, I also ask for your understanding and assistance during a very critical point in our history. As you may have heard, Missouri Western is working through a process related to strengthening some of its degree programs while phasing out others. Please allow me to provide some context and important information.
Financial Challenges and Proposed Adjustments to Our Degree Programs
Missouri Western provides access and opportunities. We are an invaluable resource to individuals, families, our community, and the State of Missouri. We educate and elevate in a special way. As we collectively focus on student success and constantly strive for excellence, we can make significant progress if we stay positive and focus on the advantages provided by Missouri Western. Although much work and many challenges are ahead, we will emerge even stronger.
Without question, we are not immune to the forces driving unprecedented change across the higher education sector and challenges specifically facing our institution. COVID-19 and associated challenges have only complicated things even more. Such forces have led to universities making significant adjustments to staffing and programs in recent years (this includes Mizzou and Missouri State just to name a few), merging, or even closing their doors. In our case, we are grappling with the impact of:
- Decreasing enrollment (nearly 25% drop in full-time undergraduate students over the past 10 years; 10% decrease in our freshman class this past fall; applications down over 15% this year)
- State subsidies dropping (largely stagnant or dropped over the years while tuition caps have kept tuition revenue relatively flat – we just had our support from the state reduced by over $600,000 per month for the next three months due to COVID-19 and we anticipate the likelihood of further reductions next fiscal year)
- Higher costs (higher pension contributions, growing health care costs, minimum wage increases, higher operating costs, more unfunded scholarships, etc. contribute to millions in increasing expenses)
- Deferred maintenance needs (over $60 million in needs as evidenced by our roads, curbs, roofs, heating/cooling systems, equipment, flooring, furniture, etc.)
- Fewer students going to college in the area (fewer high school graduates and increased public discourse questioning the value of four-year degrees)
- Increasing competition (from online programs, community colleges, peer institutions, etc.)
Until recently, the extent of these and other challenges was not fully appreciated in terms of our yearly budget, annual expenditures and available resources. In fact, in October, we announced a revised $3.178 million projected deficit for this fiscal year. Before the COVID-19 issues started impacting our institution, we had made progress. We have realized savings through some personnel moves and reduced expenditures, but these gains have been offset by legacy issues, lower student credit hours this academic year, maintenance expenditures and other unexpected expenses. Unfortunately, we need to address our immediate issues and other challenges without delay.
What Have We Been Doing?
To ensure our survival, both short-term and long-term measures are critical to help us survive and thrive in the climate currently facing Missouri Western and higher education. Over the past eight months, we have been working across campus to address our budget issues. We have made difficult decisions to eliminate a significant number of senior administrative and management positions, reduce staff, stop doing certain things and trim operating budgets among other things. We have also centralized and consolidated some operations, tapped into resources from our Foundation, and explored possible revenue streams through community and business partners. These moves have been designed to sustain us in the short-term.
At the same time, we have also been working diligently to ramp up student recruitment efforts and roll out new initiatives to assist us in the long term. Please remember that all of these new initiatives are specifically designed to attract and retain students while both providing them with additional opportunities and building an even greater sense of community on our campus. These initiatives include Gold Fridays, Griffon Guarantee Scholarship, Center for Service, esports, lacrosse, Global Center, and Military & Veterans Center.
It is important to remember that similar budget deficits will persist in future years unless we permanently reduce expenditures or increase revenue. Based on a host of factors, we have fewer options available to attack current and future shortfalls. For these and other reasons, we need to adjust to our enrollment without sacrificing focus and innovation. More than anything, it is critical that we find ways to stabilize our financial position in very short order.
University Convenes a Financial Advisory Council in February
To that end, the Board of Governors passed a strategic policy to help explore solutions to stabilize the University’s finances while facilitating an enhanced focus and a strengthening of the University’s core. This policy involves planning and discussions among administration, faculty, staff, and student leadership. Since that point in time, we have had a Financial Advisory Council review and confirm the urgency of our situation.
As part of the process to address our state of financial emergency, we convened an Academic Review Board (ARB) to assess data for each under-enrolled major and minor (e.g. enrollments, graduations, student credit hours, annual program reports, faculty counts, etc.) together with student demand for majors/minors, program viability, and career prospects. Over the past three weeks, the ARB spent countless hours reviewing programs that do not meet the state’s annual graduation guidelines (10 students per year) or otherwise sustainable enrollment levels. The ARB review focused on financial sustainability. By no means did the review question the quality, value, or rigor of a program or professor.
Proposal for a Two-Year Phase Out of Certain Programs
Unfortunately, the University is compelled to contemplate steps that are very difficult and unpleasant for all of us. These proposed steps are intended to sustain the University and avoid additional job losses.
- The ARB released its objective report late last month recommending certain steps that can potentially help move the University to a position of sustainability. If you are interested, you can access the ARB’s report here.
- On Saturday, the Provost reviewed the ARB’s objective findings and suggested the additional retention of programs in music, chemistry, and communication. He additionally suggested that the University suspend new enrollment and phase out certain programs (major/minor/concentration) over the next two years. Click here for this document.
- Several notes include most students should not be impacted directly by the recommended phase-outs because they are seeking a degree in higher enrollment programs
- Several notes include for those who are impacted, they will have a pathway to complete their degree over the course of two years.
The campus community has until April 15 to provide input at which time the Provost will finalize his recommendations and submit them to me for consideration. At the end of April, I will present my recommendations to the Board of Governors for action.
Closing Thoughts and List of Programs Retained
I am including below a list of the programs currently proposed for retention at Missouri Western. It is notable that currently over 75% of our graduates come from only 31% of our programs. Unfortunately, we simply cannot afford to subsidize under-enrolled programs any more. It is not possible to spread our resources so thin and essentially be everything to everyone.
While the phasing out of programs isn’t welcome news, our viability and long-term success as an institution is dependent upon our continuing efforts to serve our students and prepare them for success. It is important that we strengthen our core while continuing to look at new approaches and enhanced programs. We also must do what we can to make college affordable and offer the academic programming that will enable students opportunities to thrive and prosper in the workplace. Our strategies are designed to leverage our strengths to continue that mission.
This is an outstanding university with wonderful people. We have motivated students who come to us to pursue their dreams. We can work together to overcome the challenges before us through positivity, collaboration, patience and understanding. I invite you to help me in continuing our spirit of collegiality, pride, commitment and family on our campus. I encourage you to talk positively about the University whenever possible. Also, I invite you to send students to our fine University.
Thank you for all you do to support our students and institution. We hope to emerge stronger moving forward.
President Matt Wilson