President Downs shares strategies for moving forward at budget forum

President Downs Graphic

Evaluating course offerings, enhancing summer enrollment and developing new academic programs – particularly at the graduate level – were some of the strategies President Downs shared with faculty, staff and administrators at Tuesday’s budget forum.

Downs stressed that it’s no longer going to be business as usual on campus.

“We must change the course of what we’re doing,” he said. “We must be more aggressive. We have to own every student.”

Above all, he stressed that everyone on campus must take responsibility for recruitment, retention and student success.

“It’s all hands on deck because it’s for the good of Northern,” Downs said.

The budget forum was scheduled to discuss the university’s trend of decreasing credit hour production. Downs said the university planned for a deficit, but, “it was bigger than we expected.”

Northern lost 5 percent of full-time equivalent students, a trend that needs to be reversed. The main issue is on-campus credit hours, which have declined since 2009, although increases in online credit hours have helped to bridge the difference.

“The on-campus, on-ground student population needs to go up,” he said. “Period.”

Because of this year’s loss of FTEs, Northern’s cash reserves will likely dip down to around 18 percent – and we don’t want to go much lower, Downs said. Northern wants to keep reserves at around 20 percent.

Managing Expenses, Generating Revenue

Northern’s strategy moving forward is to manage expenses and generate revenue. Examples of managing expenses include:

  • Provost, deans and department chairs will review course offerings
  • Travel must be essential only
  • Open position/staffing analysis
  • Mission-critical purchases only

Revenue generation examples include:

  • Revise current programs and develop new programs, both undergraduate and graduate. One possibility is a graduate program in arts education, capitalizing on the fact that numerous art educators already come on campus each year for the annual Arts Education Institute.
  • Increase enrollment during Northern’s third term – summer. This is a great time for students to take a course they didn’t do well in, or perhaps couldn’t fit in during the busy fall and spring semesters. Expanding summer enrollments would allow the university to start the fall with excess revenue.
  • Grant opportunities for scholarships, salaries, graduate assistantships, etc.
  • A more aggressive approach to recruitment and retention, with better tracking of student success. Retention fell to 73 percent this year after rising into the upper 70s. It needs to go back up, with the goal being 80 percent.

The goal is incremental growth starting next fall. Downs said we have the infrastructure to do it, and facilities such as the Jewett Regional Science Education Center and new residence halls are already attracting more students. Now, we must fill those buildings. We also must evaluate our programs, and our offerings must evolve if needed.

“I have complete faith that all this is going to happen,” Downs said, “with the investments we have and the people that we have working here.”

Ideas from Faculty, Staff Encouraged

Eighteen pages of budget ideas have already been submitted, Downs said. More were brought up at the forum, including changing the rule regarding how many hours faculty can teach to allow for more summer courses; sending out financial aid offers sooner to prospective students; and drawing in more students through high school dual credit.

Downs encouraged people to continue to submit more ideas the online form.