Chancellor Watson addresses university concerns

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Dear Campus Colleagues,

As I entered the chancellorship, I wanted to focus on celebrating campus achievements, and to listen, learn and lead in order to launch the future.  I think we’ve had a wonderful first semester together with many successes. Although I would like to have more time to listen and learn and nestle in the now, it is time to lead and navigate the next.

As we enter the new semester, we must recognize that we are faced with challenges. UW-Whitewater, like most universities, is reliant upon tuition as the primary source of revenue. When enrollment is down, there is a direct correlation to the budget. As you likely know, UW-Whitewater has experienced enrollment declines since the 2016-17 academic year. This fall, we faced a drastic decline in enrollment – 4.1 percent. That means we had 498 fewer students than the prior fall.  The decline in enrollment has caused a decrease in tuition revenue of approximately $11 million from our peak enrollment in 2016.

In the past, UW-Whitewater had robust reserves that allowed campus to weather challenges. That is no longer the case, and we must align our spending to the revenue we generate. The current plan to correct that imbalance includes reducing operational expenses by $6 million in fiscal year 2020 and an additional $6 million in FY21. These are base budget cuts, not one-time reductions.

This is a difficult situation for our campus, and I know many conversations have been held regarding the need to look for savings and to limit spending. These are important discussions to have at the division and department level, because that is where the best decisions can be made for the students and for the health of the institution. All divisions have been asked to reduce operating budgets by comparable amounts.

I have asked the Chancellor’s Cabinet, and their units of operation, to focus on reduction of costs, along with reinvestment in strategic areas and the development of new sources of revenue.

Some of the proposed ideas for these areas include:

Reductions

Our most immediate savings will come from this area. I need you to understand that in order to meet our budget needs we will do some combination of contract non-renewals, reduction in appointment times and layoffs.

Other actions and considerations include:

Beginning July 1, professional development funds will return to previous levels of $1,000 for faculty, $500 for academic staff and $250 for university staff.

An immediate moratorium on new tuition reimbursement requests has been imposed.

Eliminating additional financial liabilities for the campus including a change in the way banked time is paid out for retirements and resignations.

Increasing rigor in position controls that allow the university to have the necessary staff in place to serve the needs of our students and the institution. All positions will be posted only internally the first two weeks.

Reducing expenditures and creating greater control over how we make purchasing decisions, and implementing additional limits on purchasing cards.

Examining possibilities of centralizing some operations to create more efficiencies in staff workload.

Piloting programs that give employees greater flexibility to voluntarily take time off without pay.

Reinvestment

This past summer, the Strategic Enrollment Plan was approved. More than 150 colleagues across campus worked on this plan, which took more than 18 months. The action steps, which we believe will increase enrollment or prevent additional losses, are as follows:

Student enrollment. We are working with our consultant Ruffalo Noel-Levitz to expand the enrollment funnel through a variety of ways. We are also looking at student profile shaping, specifically looking at expanding our recruitment of Latinx students and students with disabilities.

Academic programing. Our focus will be on degree completion programs, expanding online programs, expanding articulation and guaranteed transfer agreements with technical colleges and other two-year institutions in Wisconsin and Illinois, and expanding our graduate programs and marketing for the programs.

Other strategies. We are working on an equitable compensation structure to support longevity in professional academic advising and we are expanding the available scholarships for incoming students.

These initiatives need to provide enrollment growth.  For this reason, all investment initiatives will receive consistent evaluation. Adjustments and changes will be made to the initiatives to ensure that the investments are resulting in positive impact on enrollment and retention.

Some of the recruitment efforts are already showing positive impact, as seen in an increasing number of visits to campus for Preview Days and tours. We’ve also seen an uptick in applications and admissions. These are all good signs for the Fall of 2020 class. I appreciate all the hard work that is being done across campus.

Revenue

Developing new sources of revenue for the university will be critical to our future fiscal stability. UW-Whitewater has a proud tradition of having a strong entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that innovative drive will generate new programs and opportunities for students and the region as well as bring in new funding streams.

Some ideas include:

Launching new academic programs, degrees and certifications.

Identifying underutilized assets and repurposing them for other activities that generate revenue.

New grant funding options.

Expanding our transportation system to bring more people to campus.

Starting next week, I, along with interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Greg Cook, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Grace Crickette and interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Artanya Wesley and other members of the Chancellor’s Cabinet, will hold a series of budget listening sessions to discuss the current budget situation, opportunities to improve the budget and to hear your questions and suggestions.

The dates of those listening sessions are as follows: 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29 in University Center, room 275 10 to 11 a.m. / Thursday, Jan. 30 in University Center, room 275.

Additional listening sessions will be held as the semester progresses, including one at our Rock County campus.

The budget will also be a key component of the State of the University address at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3 in the Young Auditorium.

Your input is needed. If you have specific ideas for reducing spending, reinvesting resources to improve enrollment, or expanding revenue streams, or if you have questions please email them to Chief of Staff Kari Heidenreich at [email protected]

I understand this news may be difficult to digest. Let’s remember that UW-Whitewater has discerning and dedicated employees. I believe by focusing on our values, and through collaboration and creative problem solving we can develop long-term solutions that will help stabilize the budget, create new sources of revenue and strengthen our enrollment. I know this is a campus that cares deeply about our students and our mission to serve, and as we tap into that dedication to UW-Whitewater we will overcome these challenges.

Dr. Dwight C. Watson

Chancellor

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