Webster Provost Julian Schuster said while there is no concrete plan, a vision exists to lead the institution back to a balanced budget.
“This is not throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks,” Schuster said.
However, in order to pursue the vision of Webster’s tomorrow, Schuster said more communication between the administration and faculty is a necessity.
“I will try to provide a little bit more – allow me to say- strategic point of view on how we ended up here, where we are right now and what is the plan if (the university wishes) to get back on the robust path on the enrollment,” Schuster said during the faculty assembly meeting on Feb. 9.
Schuster said the university will attempt to change its business model. Schuster said Webster has operated on a model used by for-profit institutions for the past 20 years.
“The issue is that the business model was, or is becoming, expensive and unsustainable from the operational standpoint and the educational standpoint,” Schuster said.
Schuster said moving on from this model would allow Webster to transition to a “Webster of the future.” This future Webster would have the highest quality academic programs offered in state-of-the-art facilities while using the most modern technology. Schuster said this version of Webster would have excellent incoming students and better graduates, taught by first class faculty.
Schuster’s vision focuses on education, not on making more money.
“This is not an institution that is just going to open campuses just for a few dollars more,” Schuster said.
Schuster also said the university would need to create new programs to answer the demands of students pursuing careers in fields like bioengineering. To adapt to growing interest in new fields, Schuster said Webster administration and faculty would need to come together to figure out how, if and when the university could go about creating new programs.
“The work of the faculty, along with the administration, in assessing and creating new programs and deploying resources will be essential for all of us to leave the model which is obviously not working anymore,” Schuster said.
Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson clarified to the attending faculty in the East Academic Building that three consecutive years of budget shortfalls do not translate to financial losses for the university.
“We had, for example, $6.5 million set aside to offset potential revenue shortfalls. So we were prepared for some revenue shortfalls. We were not prepared for the revenue shortfall that we saw. But do not equate that dollar-for-dollar with a loss,” Gunderson said.
Gunderson said some of the expenses are offset by offering fewer courses and hiring fewer adjuncts, leading to the university carries less expenses.
But Gunderson said the revenue position Webster is currently in has not improved since moving to Spring One of the fiscal year.
Thanks to the declining value of the euro, the expenses of Webster’s European campuses have also risen. Gunderson said the euro has shown a 20 percent loss against the U.S. dollar in a five-month period. According to a Reuters article, the euro hit a nine-year low against the U.S. dollar in January.
“The net result is that we have higher expenses than we would have projected, and we’re seeing some revenue challenges. So coupled together our budget position is not stronger today than it was in Fall One,” Gunderson said.
According to Gunderson, there was also good news for the fiscal year. The cuts the deans had submitted in their respective schools have made significant differences. Gunderson cited those differences coming from faculty and deans figuring out how to leverage strengths and minimize weaknesses of their departments, as well as improving efficiency in the use of adjuncts.
“If our revenue in the Fiscal Year 2016 stayed the same as it is today, the reductions that we implemented would achieve a balanced budget,” Gunderson said. “In a very basic sense, the reductions that we implemented were strong enough to get us to a flat budget.
Gunderson said the university is now creating a committee, which will include faculty representation, that will try to project the revenue for next year. In order to determine what the revenue will be, Gunderson said feedback from faculty, deans and staff will be needed. Once the feedback is received, Gunderson said the university will budget accordingly.
Gunderson told the faculty that as members of a team, Webster’s stakeholders must find ways to create more revenue and efficiency while protecting academic quality.
“There is not any of us that don’t believe what you (the faculty) do isn’t essential, because it is. You create the product; you create the value, and we have to protect that, and we’re doing everything that we can to do that.”