Winona State University offers early retirement to employees

Winona State University is offering early retirement to more than 250 employees in an attempt to cut its budget.

Ellinghuysen (WSU)

Chief Financial Officer Scott Ellinghuysen says the university needs to trim a projected $1.5 million -- or about one to two percent of its spending.

University officials have not set any target for the number of people who accept the offer -- and is not considering layoffs or program reductions if that number is low.

"This budget deficit isn't such that sort of requires us to do that," he said. "There are other cost-savings things we can look at."

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Winona State is making the offer to employees -- including faculty -- who are 55 years or older and who have worked at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system for five continuous years.

The cuts are pre-emptive, Ellinghuysen said.

Overall enrollment remains high -- 8,750 this fall -- about 300 students higher than it was five years ago. But it's down from a recession-era peak of almost 8,900 in 2011.

And Ellinghuysen said the campus saw a dip in the number of freshmen it took in this year. That may be part of a long-term demographic trend as the number of Minnesota high-school students continues to decline.

This move, he said, is in anticipation of declining tuition revenues to come.

In an announcement of the offer, Ellinghuysen said uncertainty over inflation, tuition revenue, and the level of state support after this legislative biennium could hurt future budgets.

Offering early retirement, he said, "will allow us more flexibility in budget planning.”

The announcement also said the university could "reallocate resources to departments and programs in response to changing need or strategic objectives."

Faculty Association President Darrell Downs said such language "is somewhat of a signal that there is likely to be some reorganization, a reprioritization of programs on our campus."

He said he hopes the administration includes faculty in any discussions over such moves.

The last time Winona State offered university-wide buyouts was in 2009, Ellinghuysen said. He said 44 employees -- or 15 percent of eligible employees -- took the packages.

Ellinghausen said employees have several weeks to consider the offer.