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Proposed budget cuts come after SCSU relied on reserves, one-time funding to balance budgets

A person wearing a graduation cap and gown while walking on campus.
Graduates walk with their families near Atwood Memorial Center during St. Cloud State University spring semester commencement ceremonies Aug. 14, 2020, in St. Cloud.
Dave Schwarz | The St. Cloud Times via AP

Updated: May 10, 2023, 10:45 a.m.

St. Cloud State University’s faculty union has just eight days to respond to a proposed axing of more than one-third of the school’s degree programs and 57 teaching positions.

The head of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, who started in August of 2023, said the cuts proposed by administrators Monday are the result of the university not making enough structural budget adjustments in past years.

“It’s their job to make sure they have a balanced budget every year. St. Cloud State was using its reserves and wasn’t doing those kind of annual correctives for a period of time. So now it’s reached the point where they have to do that,” Chancellor Scott Olson told MPR News Wednesday morning. He later added that the school had previously made smaller cuts to programs and staffing, and used one-time pandemic-related dollars to close past budget gaps.

Higher education institutions have seen declining enrollment over the past decade, but many other schools pivoted and adjusted their respective budgets, Olson said. “I’m not aware of any other situation quite like St. Cloud State’s.”

Despite having one of its first enrollment increases in several years, SCSU continues to spend more on instruction than its college system counterparts, acting president Larry Lee said Monday. Lee has only been on the job since Sunday, when he took over from previous president Robbyn Wacker, who wasn’t supposed to step down until June 30.

SCSU is projected to lose more than $5 million this year, despite receiving additional state funding. Now, the university is forced to adapt by both suspending some programs and investing in new ones, like cannabis education.

The degrees proposed for elimination include criminal justice, hospitality, sociology, music, Spanish, physics, gender and women’s studies, environmental science and economics. Fifty of SCSU’s minor degrees, including African American and Indian studies, are also on the potential chopping block.

Olson said SCSU identified these programs as having low enrollment.

“That’s kind of the best use of the tuition dollars in the state taxpayer investment that’s being made to make sure you’re delivering the programs that are the most necessary and most relevant,” Olson said, adding that about 90 percent of current students are in the remaining programs.

Huskies in programs slated for elimination will be able to complete their degree, but no new students will be admitted.

Amid SCSU’s struggles, Olson said he’ll be looking at the entire state college system.

“And we’ll always be thinking about how the system can be responsive to what Minnesota’s needs are,” Olson said, pointing to its massive employment and economic impact. Minnesota State also reported $8.4 billion in contributions to Minnesota’s economy in fiscal year 2022.

“We have 300,000 students in the system and the kind of programs they’re in are the programs that Minnesota needs for its workforce,” he said. “But that’s always an evolving thing. What might be coming in the future, isn’t necessarily what we did in the past.”

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