MANSFIELD - Facing budget deficits and funding shortfalls projected for at least the next two years, Mansfield University is finalizing plans to address the situation and ensure the sustainability of the university and the quality of its academic programs.
MU faces a projected 14.3 million dollar shortfall over the next two years.
"The university has been very conservative in managing its resources," Mansfield president, Fran Hendricks, said. "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. Add to this the slower than expected economic recovery and reduced state appropriations and we find ourselves facing very serious challenges."
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.
Plans currently call for as many as 29 regular, full-time faculty positions and more than 25 staff and administrative positions to be eliminated. 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," 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."
Hendricks and the MU Cabinet have engaged the campus community to discuss the situation and possible solutions in a series of meetings, open forums and online discussions.
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 have decreased by 13.78 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.
Working with the Mansfield Auxiliary Corporation (MAC), MU has modernized its students housing and the university is continuing to make improvements in other facilities.
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.
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.
Hendricks added, however, 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."