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UMD planning $2 million in cuts to academic programs

The University of Minnesota Duluth campus, as seen from the air in spring 2015. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

About $2 million in cuts to academic programs this fall will mark the next step in the University of Minnesota Duluth's long slog through reducing an annual deficit that once was more than $9 million.

The cuts will be felt mostly by just three of the five colleges that make up the university: the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Fine Arts and the College of Education and Human Service Professions. UMD administration said last week that the deans of those colleges have been given budget targets, and will begin looking for areas to make reductions. Those are expected to be announced in mid-October, and could mean suspensions of some programs and eliminated faculty positions.

Those colleges are bearing the brunt of cuts because the other two — the Labovitz School of Business and Economics and the Swenson College of Science and Engineering — are growing, with more student demand, said Fernando Delgado, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.

"Unfortunately, many programs in the liberal arts are declining," he said, something being seen across the country in higher education.

While some liberal arts offerings at UMD, like graphic design and psychology, have large numbers, others have more faculty than are needed for the number of students seeking them out. Deans and department heads are looking to cut in areas with low enrollment rates, or that have redundant sections, for example. Some full-time adjunct and contract faculty positions could be eliminated, and vacant positions held open. Changes would be fully in effect by July 1, but the bulk of any program suspensions probably wouldn't be in place until the 2018-19 school year, said Delgado, who began with the university this summer, replacing Andrea Schokker.

School of Fine Arts dean Bill Payne has to reduce his budget by $400,000 this year.

UMD three years ago went through a process that rooted out academic areas that had lost students or had reached capacity, Payne said.

"I was aware of where we had lost students and where we need to make changes," he said, and that data has been reviewed again and updated this summer.

Decisions aren't final, he said, but will be shared with faculty and those losing their jobs before they are made public. He declined to give any specifics.

Cuts will probably mean a shifting of curriculum, where some instructors might be teaching new material. Workload is to the point where it can't increase, he said, so the challenge is delivering "excellent" instruction with fewer people.

The College of Liberal Arts must make $1 million in reductions and the College of Education and Human Service Professions $500,000.

The proposed restructuring of colleges announced last winter may not become a reality, depending on how the academic cuts play out. The idea is to move from five colleges to three, merging administration of four colleges to share business-related duties. Two deans would be eliminated. It is already known that Payne is by choice returning to a faculty position. If schools are restructured, those changes would be in effect for the 2018-19 school year.

The current UMD deficit is $4.3 million. The portion of its budget out of balance is that which contains tuition and state funding, and amounts to about $150 million. Campuswide, all areas of UMD have been asked to reduce expenses by 1 percent to save $1 million. There is also a $7.2 million nonrecurring deficit UMD is whittling away, so it can begin building its reserves.

Enrollment decline, meaning less tuition revenue, and a recent period of less state funding doled out by the University of Minnesota combined to put UMD in a position of cutting, which began a couple of years ago. Past reductions were made through dozens of voluntary layoffs and the merging of some programs, for example. The University of Minnesota System has also increased funding to buy down the deficit.

Enrollment peaked in 2011, and through last year dropped by about 9 percent.

"A couple of things hit us at the same time," said Chancellor Lynn Black. "We, quite frankly, were living off our reputation in some ways in our whole process of recruiting students ... For so many years, students were just showing up without a whole lot of effort."

That issue aligned with Minnesota's decrease in high school-aged students. UMD has overhauled admissions and recruiting efforts to fix the problem, and is beginning to see changes, Black said, noting a 6 percent increase in freshmen this year.

"The good news is that we are keeping quality high. The success of our graduates is significant; almost startling in many ways," he said, referencing an annual survey that continues to show high numbers of UMD graduates finding jobs in their fields.

Delgado said UMD is looking into investments in online courses, to retain and attract more students.

Despite UMD's budget shortfall, the campus is in "pretty good shape," according to Payne.

"Anything that eliminates jobs is extreme and tumultuous for that person, but for the campus and (the School of Fine Arts) this is not going to be devastating," he said. "I am confident we will come out of this and be able to grow in positive directions."

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