October 1, 2016

Update: Webster expects $12.2 million shortfall, plans to close three campuses

Update 5:30 PM Nov. 13: Additional information about where graduate enrollment has dipped has been added to the story. Also, the email sent by President Elizabeth Stroble was sent to faculty and staff. Not just faculty as the story had said previously.

Update 3:00 AM Nov. 12: The story has been updated with University and Faculty Senate statements and more quotes from Provost Julian Schuster. As well as expanded information on past shortfalls.

Webster University is projecting a $12.2 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) which runs from June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015. This is the third consecutive year Webster has predicted a shortfall. Webster experienced a shortfall of $6-7 million in FY14 and another $12.2 million in FY13.

In an email sent to faculty and staff, President Elizabeth Stroble said a reduction of $7.8 million to the budget will be necessary for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Provost Julian Schuster spoke about the shortfall at the Faculty Assembly meeting on Nov. 11. Schuster announced that while the shortfall is severe, it is not yet critical. He said the university will be able to make it through the shortfall. However, he did say that the university had to decide to close down three Webster campuses. Schuster did not say what campuses would close, and when contacted university spokesperson Patrick Giblin said a formal announcement will be made at a later time.

Schuster and Stroble both said that enrollment was the leading cause in the shortfall. This year, Webster has seen a decline of 6-8 percent in overall enrollment. While Schuster said undergraduate enrollment was “fine,” it was Webster’s graduate program that has seen the drastic downturn in enrollment.

“We are having less and less credits every year by substantial numbers,” Schuster said.

Giblin said that graduate enrollment for the Webster Groves campus has actually seen an increase but the drop is being seen at Webster’s extended campuses.

In the email, Stroble laid out multiple ways that the university planned to reach their desired savings goal of $7.8 million.

  • Vacant positions will not be automatically filled. Future vacant positions will have their funding put into a central budget pool.
  • Reevaluating and restructuring extended campuses to make them more financially viable.
  • Looking at long term changes as opposed to balancing this year’s budget.
  • All units within the university will be expected to  finish the year on funds already received.

Looking forward

Faculty Senate President Gwyneth Williams said that there are not large vacancies in the faculty right now but the new cuts will possibly stop new hiring lines from being opened. Williams said faculty is upset by the shortfall but are currently waiting to see what the real effects will be.

Schuster said that even with the shortfall Webster is committed to both its students and employees.

“We will, of course, fulfill all of our obligations to our students and to all of the people that work for us,” Schuster said.

Schuster and Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson will be holding a town hall meeting with faculty Wednesday, Nov. 12, to discuss the shortfall with faculty.

Schuster said it was important for departments to look anywhere to find ways to save money.

“We are not going to balance the checkbook on somebody else’s back, but on our own,” Schuster said.

Three years running

At a Faculty Assembly meeting last year about the FY14 shortfall, Schuster said Webster would need to change the way it budgets, or prepare for cuts.

“Next year’s budget will be fundamentally different than this year’s budget,” Julian Schuster said at the meeting. “Otherwise we will have the same conversation next year. We will budget more than we will get in revenue and then we will go to cuts.”

The FY14 shortfall occurred because Webster accounted for a 2 to 2.5 percent growth, but instead got declining enrollment. For this year’s budget, Webster planned for no growth and again got declining enrollment.

In the email sent out this year Stroble said budget cuts in past shortfalls were meant as more temporary remedies to be reversed once the budget was balanced. But now, with the third consecutive shortfall, the administration has to look to make more significant and impactful cuts.

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