Fort Lewis College will look at furloughs and layoffs, the details and scope of which will become more clear in the next month, to deal with an anticipated drop of $1.58 million in revenue, including $717,985 in state revenue.
State colleges across the country are struggling with budgets as COVID-19 restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus have had economy-crushing consequences. The state of Colorado and FLC have not been spared.
“The reality is: Given our fiscal context in the coming year and the following year, we are going to force furloughs and layoffs,” FLC President Tom Stritikus said Friday at the Board of Trustees meeting held online on Zoom.
Decisions on budget cuts will be made assuming a 7.5% decline in enrollment from 3,229 students in fall 2019 to 2,986 students projected in fall 2020 and with an assumption that no tuition increase will be put in place for any student.
FLC is also projecting a $2.1 million shortfall in the Native American tuition waiver for the next fiscal year.
With restaurants and retail shops only now reopening, and doing so to much slower business, Stritikus told trustees he would recommend against a tuition increase. Restaurants and retail shops are prime employers for students, he said.
“We will not share pain with students,” Stritikus told trustees. “We believe this is not the time to raise tuition on students.”
If the budgetary picture worsens further, a remote possibility exists that FLC could follow a strategy developed at other schools of putting in place a spring semester tuition increase.
But Stritikus added, “We’ve never done that.”
FLC’s total budget is $48.6 million, and $37.7 million goes toward salaries and benefits. The next biggest expenditure is operational expenses at $5.3 million. The remainder of the budget goes to semi and non-annual expenses, financial obligations and required reserves.
The school has received $3 million from the CARES Act, which will help soften the blow of the fiscal impact. But half of that money must go to students for COVID-related expenses.
Tuition makes up 65.9% of FLC’s revenue, equal to $31.9 million this year. State support makes up 29.1% of revenue, $14.2 million this year. Other revenue streams make up 5.3%, $2.56 million this year.
Guiding principles in making cuts, Stritikus said, would be reviewing proposals based on their impact on students and ordering them from least disruptive to more disruptive.
Trustee Meredith Mapel questioned if the assumption of a 7.5% enrollment decline was too optimistic given many colleges are basing budgets on enrollment declines ranging from 10% to 15%.
“Tuition is such a big piece of the finances, I’d hate to get too hopeful. ... Maybe it’s right. Just continue to look at that one and be comfortable with that projection and that it’s not overly hopeful,” she said.
Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Cheryl Nixon said she shared Mapel’s concern, but added FLC’s enrollment numbers are looking better than national averages, although numbers change from week to week and students can back out from enrolling through Sept. 1.
“Meredith, I’m going to be really honest and say I share your concerns because as provost every day, I’m thinking about students in the classroom and what are those numbers going to be side by side with what’s the high-quality teaching experience those students are going to have.”
She added, given FLC’s relatively strong enrollment numbers, the school has some reason to base budgetary decisions on an enrollment decline of only 7.5%.
“The last thing we want to do is have students come onto campus and have a weak educational experience,” she said.
Based on enrollment projections, “we kind of have to track a little bit toward this optimism in terms of the educational experience,” she said.
Trustee Ellen Roberts, a former state legislator, said historically, higher education budgets have taken disproportionate hits in economic downturns as lawmakers seek to protect funding for early childhood and K-12 education, road and transportation, and emergency services.
“I think we should be pretty conservative because I would expect higher ed, as it has historically, to take a disproportionate hit from the Legislature, just because of reality,” she said.