Our heart goes out to Griffon Nation and everyone impacted by the COVID-19 situation. The rapid spread of this virus combined with our commitment to be a responsible global citizen led us to shift our spring semester away from on-campus instruction to alternate modes of delivery so we can continue our important mission of education. As we have operated in unexpected and extraordinary circumstances, we are most appreciative of the understanding of our campus community as well as the efforts of our faculty, staff and administrators in continuing our critical operations.
As you might imagine, the COVID-19 crisis has added massive disruptions to students, institutional operations and finances for all universities around the country. This comes at a time when higher education was already facing unprecedented forces. For quite some time, institutions have been struggling with the impact of downward student enrollment trends, strained state funding, rising costs, facilities maintenance needs, tuition limits, long-term debt and online competition. Such forces have led universities (including Mizzou, UMKC, KU, NWMSU, MSU and others) to make significant reductions in personnel and programs in recent years.
Without question, Missouri Western is not immune to these forces. Our financial challenges are real and immediate. Our net position has decreased by over 70% within the last five years. Cash and investment levels have decreased to critical levels while costs and deferred maintenance increased considerably. To preserve the institution and our accreditation, immediate and corrective actions are needed.
Even before the pandemic, Missouri Western had devised a strategic plan to extricate itself from this delicate financial position. We implemented a process to evaluate and bring our program offerings and staffing into balance with our enrollment numbers. Commenced in February, this process involved a 14-person Finance Advisory Council evaluating our financial situation and then a nine-person Academic Review Board considering necessary program adjustments. Faculty, staff, administrators and students participated in this important process.
At the end of April, the Board of Governors considered final recommendations. To help Missouri Western survive and strategically put it in a position to thrive, the Board approved a phase-out of certain degrees and minors. Over the years, too many under-enrolled programs have persisted. Nearly 35 majors currently enroll fewer than 10 students total and another 10 majors enroll only between 11-15 students. This approach is unsustainable in the current economic environment.
As difficult as it is to make these changes, we simply cannot be everything to everyone, but must focus on our core strengths. The plan to focus on our strengths impacts the majors of fewer than 15% of our current student population, and these students will have two years to finish out their program or opt into a related one. Sadly, this involves the elimination of quality programs and a heart-breaking reduction in personnel.
As an open-access institution with a statewide applied learning mission, Missouri Western serves as an invaluable resource for students, families and local communities. We are critical to attracting and retaining talent in our area. We are vital to the success of local industry and our society. To survive and thrive, we must be forward thinking and strategic.
Going forward, we will continue to have exceptional programs in that serve our students and the community. We will invest in programs that are in demand while continuing to offer courses in liberal arts subjects, just on a different scale.
We are aware that the proposed changes are very difficult. Please know that our goal is to strengthen the University and put us on a pathway to financial stability.
Now more than ever, we need the understanding and support of our alums and supporters. We need you to help us as we gain momentum and attract new students while adapting to the realities facing higher education. Together, we can continue to build our network of Griffons supporting and celebrating each other. We appreciate your support and understanding as we move forward, to emerge stronger than ever to continue the legacy of Griffon Pride.
Matthew J. Wilson
Missouri Western State University