Dear UWO colleagues,
Over the last five years, we have made a number of difficult decisions regarding UW Oshkosh’s finances and future. Through it all, this university community has done everything that has been asked in efforts to reduce spending. You have responded, and I am grateful. We are in a better position for it.
Today, I must again ask for your continued help, trust and confidence as I outline the need for a new response to the institution’s latest enrollment and retention challenges.
A final analysis of our fall 2019 student enrollment and retention data reveals declines more severe than those projected. These decreases once again put UWO in a difficult financial posture as we prepare for fiscal year 2021. We will simply spend more than we will bring in for fiscal year 2021 if either a reduction in expenses or generation of greater revenues is not realized. There will not be sufficient reserves on hand to cover the difference.
I am proposing new measures to help us close a budget gap and mitigate a potential 7.5 percent budget reduction in FY 2021. That reduction would stand as an addendum to the current Plan for Fiscal Transformation, and I, like you, want to prevent it. I am confident the measures that follow will help us. They represent efforts to adapt and build, not cut.
Today, I am proposing:
- A new Voluntary Retirement Incentive Option Program (VRIOP). This iteration of the program, which will be similar to the successful programs we carried out in previous years, offers qualifying participants 50 percent of their base salary as an incentive to choose to retire. Our analysis suggests there are more than 300 employees across all three campuses who qualify based on developed criteria. The VRIOP can help us dramatically lessen the potential budget reduction we face. To learn more about the program qualifications and deadlines and find the interest form, please visit this web page. We ask that all employee applications for the VRIOP be submitted by the end of the day on Jan. 15. An HR Connections session to provide more information on the program has been scheduled for Dec. 18 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Sage Hall, Room 1232. The session, led by Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity, Equity and Affirmative Action Shawna Kuether, will also be recorded and quickly made available to all afterwards. I will have more to report on the VRIOP and our related budget-gap-closing strategies in a series of open forums shortly after the New Year, the details of which I will share later in this message.
- Investments in the Strategic Enrollment Plan (SEP) that will deliver stronger student classes and increase retention and progression rates. These investments must yield increases in student applications and admissions, both first-year and transfer students, and I’m confident they will. We are building on initial investments that have paid off through the successful recruitment of larger first-year classes. We need to do more. A reduction in retention and transfer students has added greater pressure on the decline and must be counteracted. One example and element of the SEP implementation is last week’s Board of Regents approval of UWO’s contract with international student recruitment and education partner Kings Education. Kings has had a successful presence on the UWO Fox Cities campus for the last few years, and we are getting right to work to expand the partnership to welcome more international students to all three campuses. We will share more details on our additional strategic enrollment efforts in January.
- Creation of new academic programs and modification of select programs. We must all be part of this critical examination of expanding new offerings on UWO’s three campuses. This is not about eliminating programs; it’s about making all programs more impactful for our students and the region. Provost John Koker will engage faculty members in the development of this plan and support them in the deployment of new and revised programs prescribed by our study. While new program development is critical, it is equally important to evaluate current programs, especially low-enrollment programs, and make the necessary changes to attract more students. Our greatest area for future enrollment growth will be in adult education, and we must make investments to better serve new traditional students and our region. Among other things, this demands we commit to more and stronger online offerings. In short, we need new and revised programs, new delivery formats and new populations of students. Our thinking and our approach cannot be “instead of.” It must be “in addition to” when it comes to traditional undergraduate resident programs.
- A delay in rebuilding university balances. Given the decline in revenue we have experienced, we will delay an aggressive effort to rebuild university balances and reserves. Once our finances are brought into balance, a sensible strategy will be developed to rebuild balances.
- The development of a new and visionary strategic plan. Given the opportunities inherent in this three-campus university preparing to recognize and celebrate its sesquicentennial, we need to envision what UWO wants and needs to be as we enter the next 150 years. Many elements of the 2016-2021 Transforming UW Oshkosh Strategic Plan have been met while others have not. A new plan is essential to help us move beyond our current challenges.
I ask that you mark your calendars and UWO’s Vice Chancellors and me for one of our open budget forums scheduled the second week of January in the Oshkosh campus’s Reeve Memorial Union Theater, Room 307. This will give me several opportunities to report back to you and offer more detail on the proposals in the early New Year. We will build in time for your questions. Each forum will be available via live streaming video for anyone who cannot attend. We will share links as the forum dates draw nearer:
- Monday, Jan. 6, from 9 to 11 a.m.
- Monday, Jan. 6, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, Jan. 7, from 1 to 3 p.m.
- Wednesday, Jan. 8, from 7:45 to 9:45 a.m.
Meanwhile, we will continue to make ourselves available to brief and consult with the university community. Please reach out and engage shared governance leaders and the administration with feedback and questions before, during and after the forums. We are committed to keeping you aware of proposed budget-solution details and developments.
Since late 2014, we have all adjusted to constant change. Enrollment declines represent just one of several pressures. We absorbed our share of historic, state disinvestments in the UW System while also experiencing a tuition freeze. We have carried out the Plan for Fiscal Transformation on the Oshkosh campus to mitigate the impact of declining revenue. That plan was primarily built on reducing expenses with a very modest revenue increase. We made our goal on the reduction side but fell short of revenue targets.
We cannot cut our way to prosperity. It is now time to focus on revenue generation through development of innovative programs and reinvigoration of lower-enrollment programs. In the short term, the VRIOP will be the vehicle to address necessary expense reductions. The long-term solutions are curriculum innovation, lean business practices and the evolution of this institution into the first-choice for the students we hope to serve.
The approach I am proposing represents a positive and proactive way to address our financial challenges. Aside from the salary savings achieved through the VRIOP, all of the other options are either expense-neutral or revenue generators. Achieving our goals will require hard work, your best ideas and a commitment to targeted investments from the entire university. I ask for that support.
Thank you all for your contributions to UWO. I look forward to providing additional updates in the New Year.
This post was originally shared in an email to UWO employees on December 9, 2019.