Mansfield University facing staff eliminations

MANSFIELD – Facing a $14.3 million shortfall over the next two years, Mansfield University plans to eliminate as many as 29 regular, full-time faculty positions and more than 25 staff and administrative positions.

Discussions with the affected faculty, staff and departments to be impacted will take place in the days ahead.

“These are difficult decisions affecting people’s lives,” university President Fran Hendricks said. “Those affected are all valuable to the university but we also have an obligation to live within our means and operate in a responsible manner. We will be looking to our faculty and staff to reinvent the delivery of academic programs and ensure the continued quality of service and support for students.”

Tuition and fees are the university’s primary source of revenue, so with the decline in enrollment and rise of costs outside the university’s control, the administration is studying a variety of ways to reduce costs and balance the budget, Hendricks said.

According to Hendricks, the university has been very “conservative in managing its resources.”

“However, we’ve experienced enrollment declines over the past three years, mostly due to the declining number of high school students, as have most other universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education,” he said.

This year alone shows a 5 percent decrease in enrollment figures compared to last year, with enrollment standing at just under 3,000 students and this year’s incoming class count at 628.

“Add to this the slower than expected economic recovery and reduced state appropriations and we find ourselves facing very serious challenges,” Hendricks added.

The enrollment decline is a reflection of the shrinking number of high school graduates in northern Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York, Mansfield’s primary service areas.

This, Hendricks pointed out, has intensified competition among colleges and universities for these students.

The student population decline problem is compounded by a steady decrease in state funding. As expenses have increased, the state’s appropriation for Mansfield University has decreased by nearly 14 percent since 2008.

Hendricks stressed that the university’s academic budget supporting instruction is separate from residence and dining budgets which are billed to students based on actual costs.

Housing, he added, is managed by a separate, nonprofit entity.

Hendricks and the university cabinet have engaged the campus community to discuss the situation and possible solutions in a series of meetings, open forums and online discussions.

Working with the Mansfield Auxiliary Corp., MU has modernized its students housing and the university is continuing to make improvements in other facilities.

At the same time, he explained, MU has a broad mix of academic programs and is in a better position than many schools to adapt to changes and needs.

Several new programs based on regional workforce needs have been added over the past few years, but “that it doesn’t change the ongoing challenges of less state support and fewer eligible students.”

“The next two years,” he said, “will be among the most challenging in the university’s 156-year history.”