President Fritz Erickson and Provost Kerri Schuiling held a town hall meeting Wednesday to discuss opportunities to move the university forward and address rumors swirling around a $2.6 million budget shortfall tied to the fall enrollment decline of 423 students.
“We haven’t made any final decisions on what to do with the budget,” Erickson said. “To unilaterally cut our way out of the problem in a chainsaw-like approach would be a mistake. We can cover some of the shortfall through one-time reserve funds as a bridge to give us the time we need to make intelligent decisions. Instead of rushing and making all the cuts immediately, we need to determine how to manage reductions in an appropriate fashion while also making strategic investments in the institution.”
Schuiling is leading an academic program review and prioritization process that will empower departments to make judicious scheduling and staffing decisions that are responsive to their particular goals and enrollment trends.
“There are rumors going around and making it up to my office that we’re eliminating all adjuncts and contingents, and that no term contracts are being renewed. We’re not doing that,” Schuiling said. “One of our primary covenants here is to hold students harmless. We are never going to prevent them from graduating on time and getting the classes they need. We also honor our contracts. That’s an important piece to know. I just want to dispel the myths, and talk about ideas for going forward.”
Erickson said there are many more opportunities for NMU to grow than there are challenges. One example is off-campus programming. He said comparable universities derive one-quarter to one-third of their enrollment from off-campus or online programs, while the impact at Northern is negligible.
Another focus is increasing international enrollment and partnerships. Erickson said Northern’s 110 degree-seeking international students is a relatively small number compared with peer institutions.
“I also believe we have an opportunity to rethink how we do our budget on this campus,” Erickson added. “We have a long history of a very centralized process. People on the 6th floor of Cohodas sit and develop a budget, then pass it around to everybody. It’s not terribly participatory. We have a chance to fundamentally change that.
“We could create a mechanism where when students enroll in departments, classes and programs, there are dollars directly tied to that so departments can manage the cost of instruction. Some departments have grown or expanded and need additional resources. Others are down and perhaps need to re-think how they’re structured, how they operate and how they might appeal to a broader audience.”
Erickson stressed that while across-the-board percentage cuts are not the right response to the budget shortfall, several areas on campus will be impacted to varying degrees. No timeline for implementation has been identified.