Enhanced Separation Agreements. $14-million deficit. Faculty-line reductions. Low-enrolled majors. What does it all mean?
Enhanced Separation Agreements
An Enhanced Separation Agreement (ESA) is an agreement in which a faculty or staff member may apply to “separate” from their contract in exchange for “enhanced” benefits. In this case, those benefits are a year and a half salary and five and a half years of medical coverage, according to KSC President Melinda Treadwell.
Interim Provost Ockle Johnson explained the need for these agreements, “It’s a result of the decline in enrollment… And so the number of faculty that we have is more than can be sustained, given our current student enrollment.” Johnson added that these agreements allow the college to reduce the number of tenure-track and clinical faculty, as well as resident artists.
Treadwell said, “It’s a bridge between positions. If they were thinking of retiring, it’s a very nice option. If they’re thinking of a transition, then it’s a great option for folks to have about a year-and-a-half of planning space, from a salary perspective.”
Treadwell said these agreements are an attempt to bring the student-to-faculty ratio from a projected 13.2:1 to 16:1. “I went back to the [Board of Trustees], and I said, ‘I’d like one more round of volunteer separations. We need to look at some of our really tiny, low enrolled programs… We need to get into some opportunities here to try to get our faculty ratios closer to 16 students for every single full-time faculty member,’” Treadwell said.
Johnson said that the college is ‘ideally’ looking to buy out between 20 and 30 faculty members. He said that the administration will decide which applications will be accepted. However, if there are not enough cuts, they will consider “further cuts in faculty moving forward, and looking at particular possible particular faculty and programs, if need be, and that would occur in July.”
In regards to faculty, Dr. Saran Ghatak, the outgoing president of the Keene State College Educators Association, said that faculty are “deeply anxious and troubled by the financial circumstances of the college.”
Dr. Loren Launen, the incoming president of the Educators Association, concurred with this sentiment.
Changes to Programs
Treadwell said that she and Johnson will not accept all applications, as they will be looking at programs that have low-enrollment. “If we look [at] the last 15 years of data in the factbook, we can see tiny programs, fewer than 10 majors, three faculty, we have those programs,” Treadwell said.
Johnson stated that no program changes have been finalized, and all program changes would be formally announced in July.
Although Treadwell and Johnson would not name any low-enrolled programs, the Keene State College factbook states the number of students who have declared each major.
According to the factbook, the following programs have fewer than 10 declared students: anthropology (7), general science (7), athletic training (5), earth and space science (4), chemistry/physics (2), French (1) and Geology (0).
Johnson further explained that although it is not necessarily related to the Enhanced Separation Agreements, there will need to be some curricular adjustments to low-enrolled courses due to some program requirements.
“We are not going to a situation where we’re going to have large lecture halls or other things like that as a regular course,” Johnson said.
Although some programs may need to be cut, Treadwell said she would not give up some programs, as some make up part of our public, liberal arts college identity.
“In some cases, we may say, ‘We don’t need three faculty for those smaller programs.’ In some cases where we have a program where it’s really tiny [and] it’s never been big, and it’s not really essential that we have a major because we can offer the courses; we can offer the experiences, but we don’t need a major if those majors are not something our students are looking for,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell made it clear that the student experience is at the heart of her decision. “I am not going to eliminate a long list of programs. That is not the way we’re going to come out of this effort to try to right-size the faculty. If I suddenly eliminate a whole bunch of places for students where they’re registered, that’s only going to harm us.”
The Budget after COVID-19
The Keene Sentinel reported on June 4 that KSC’s budget deficit grew to $14 million. “It’s because we had about a $4 million structural gap that we were still trying to close. That’s that reorganization within doing all this past year for administration,” Treadwell said. She added that on June 4, she declared the college is done with administration restructuring.
The finalizing of the administration restructuring resulted in about a $6.5 million cost containment for next year, which “gets that budget down a little bit,” Treadwell said.
But, COVID changed everything.
“COVID resulted in [an] enrollment slip and actually lower use of our residential halls and our dining packages. And that’s what made that budget bloat. The deficit grew up to $14.5 million. In addition to the deficit we were running [of] $4 million, we had an additional $6 to 8 million that was tied to enrollment and lower than predicted use of our facilities,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell said that if COVID hadn’t hit, KSC would have closed the gap next year.
“Because students weren’t on campus as much as they were forecast to be, [or] because they elected to study remote or, in some cases, what we saw were a higher percentage [of students] did not return in the spring than we typically have seen… That’s part of what resulted in that budget deficit for this current fiscal year that we’re closing right now,” Treadwell said.
Into the Future
“In the fall, we’re not going to be talking about deficits,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell said that she and her administration have made a $17 million correction since Treadwell stepped up as president. “To me, that’s been a really good effort by the campus to do the things we need to to contain administrative costs, discretionary spending, that doesn’t impact the student experience,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell is optimistic about students’ return in the fall, and said that she will be investing in the student experience. “We’re investing in student clubs, organizations, residential living experiences. So I am hoping what the students will feel is improved focus on student experience options and better investment in them.”
Treadwell said that all decisions will be made by mid-July. “What I’ve told our faculty is, all of these decisions will be completed by the middle of July. And when we’re communicating with faculty, we will also be communicating with students and the whole campus community.”
Treadwell added, “My commitment is people need to hear from us as much and as quickly as possible. So I expect our students will know the impacts will not be adverse. And as we come into next year, we’ll be focused on the future and what our students want to see more of.”
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