University senate discusses WKU’s budget, expected enrollment decline

Kirk Atkinson faculty senate chair speaks during the monthly faculty senate meeting at the Faculty House Feb. 21, in Bowling Green.

Nicole Ziege

WKU’s University Senate discussed the university’s expected budget constraints for the next academic year, as well as Kentucky’s declining fall enrollment during its meeting on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, the trend in terms of eligible student population in Kentucky does not look good, and so nobody really expects that we can turn this around any time soon,” faculty regent Claus Ernst said during his meeting report.

In most public four-year colleges, enrollment has declined across the state of Kentucky. WKU, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University and Kentucky State University all currently have lower enrollment than a decade ago during the 2008-2009 academic year.

WKU enrollment has been in decline since the 2012-13 academic year from 21,124 to 19,461, an 8 percent decrease, as reported on Feb. 5.

Although the Board of Regents finance and budget committee approved a 2 percent in-state undergraduate tuition increase for the 2019-20 academic year, Ernst said WKU will not receive close to the expected $3.8 million that would be generated from that increase. He said this is due to certain tuition categories not increasing across the board.

“If enrollment declines further, of course, that will eat away at this,” Ernst said, referring to the tuition revenue from the increase. “What this is telling us that in the next year, there is hardly going to be any money at all.”

Putting the $3.8 million into perspective, Ernst said the university increased its insurance contribution to about $800,000 in 2019.

“I do not foresee that we can have our money cover fixed cost increases, so the budget is going to be very, very tight,” Ernst said.

Ernst informed members of the senate about the Board of Regents finance committee approving the use of about $3 million in “carry forward” funds, or money that remains in the 2018-19 fiscal year, to balance the 2019-20 budget.

In addition to the $3 million to balance the budget, there was a total of about $27.2 million in carry forward funds generated in the 2018 fiscal year. The funds will also be used for offsetting vacant positions, offsetting a projected tuition shortfall, with about $1.4 million returning to the respective positions, as previously reported.

“My hope is under the RAMP model, somehow this carry forward amount will decrease,” Ernst said.

When asked about how the university will take care of the “impending pinch” of its budget, Ernst said WKU has worked on increasing retention rates, which he said will help. However, Ernst said he did not think there was one simple solution to the problem.

“I think we are committing a recruiting effort all over the state as much as you can, but my understanding is the competition is intense,” Ernst said. “We’re not the only university in this situation.”

Geology Instructor Margaret Crowder asked about how switching university employees from the Kentucky Employees Retirement System to the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) could help WKU save money.

Crowder said this suggestion came from the staffing changes that have taken place within the past two years at WKU and the switching around of faculty to different positions.

“I’m not aware of any such move,” Ernst said, addressing her question. “My understanding is that one requires a professional degree of some sort and the other does not.”

Ernst said depending on the Kentucky state legislative session, the institution rates for KERS might increase by large percentages, putting further pension obligations onto the university’s budget.

“I believe we have put some money aside for this, but nobody knows yet how this is going to affect us,” Ernst said.

In her report, Provost Terry Ballman thanked the faculty for submitting their fifth-week assessments for their students.

“Having an assessment early on is a great predictor of student success, and I also appreciate everyone’s efforts in our increased retention rates,” Ballman said.

Ballman also emphasized how the expected decline in student enrollment will affect WKU, and she said the decline will be “much more than anticipated.”

“As we know, we don’t get as much allocation as we would like from the state so fewer students also equals less revenue, which creates greater budget constraints,” Ballman said.

News reporter Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said enrollment has dropped by 4 percent since the 2012-2013 academic year. This was based off outdated data, and enrollment has actually decreased by 8 percent. The story has been updated and the Herald regrets this error.