The drastic cuts in degree programs and faculty members recently finalized by St. Cloud State University officials put the school in a class of its own when it comes to the far-reaching shake-up roiling higher education, according to the online publication Higher Ed Dive.

St. Cloud State’s cuts are among the deepest and most dramatic currently being proposed in the sector. However, the university is part of a growing cohort of institutions proposing restructuring initiatives, including staff and faculty reductions, as well as program cuts and revamps.

The university largely followed through on the broad scope of cutbacks outlined in May, driven by a sharp decline in enrollment and burgeoning budget deficits. SCS officials were candid in acknowledging the institution’s failure to respond to the changing marketplace in higher education noted by the St. Cloud Times.

Cuts come after the second largest Minnesota state system school failed to adapt to declining enrollment, Interim President Larry Lee told the St. Cloud Times. The university’s enrollment consistently declined from roughly 18,000 students in 2010 to roughly 10,000 students in 2024. 

Lee said the university didn’t adjust its student to faculty ratio during this decline, and with compensation consisting of nearly 75% of the budget, the university fell short. The financial overlook led SCSU to underperform compared to other Minnesota State schools in instructional cost surveys, which are then used to determine state financial assistance. 

As a result, the number of degree programs will be slashed from 136 to 90, while the number of minors take an even greater hit, reduced from 85 to 35. Some 55 faculty and 46 positions will also be eliminated in the restructuring over the next few years. The programs on the chopping block tend to be the least in demand, drawing less than ten percent of students.

Lee said the university decided on its cuts due to program enrollments, registered credits, degree completion statistics, revenue numbers and more. Due to this approach, only 8% of students are enrolled in suspended degree programs. Impacted students will receive a personalized plan toward graduation, and the university guarantees they’ll graduate on schedule. 

University leadership express confidence that belatedly biting the bullet and downsizing will stabilize the institution financially well into the future.

College leaders noted that St. Cloud State’s enrollment has stabilized at around 10,000 students and its revenue numbers are strong, with $140 million projected for fiscal 2024. 

But the university’s expenses have outgrown its revenue, leading to an $18 million deficit in fiscal 2023 and a projected $4.7 million deficit for 2024. That makes for an “unsustainable financial situation” that is out of step with the rest of the Minnesota State universities’ instruction cost per student…

Whether and how long it takes to stabilize SCS will be closely watched, not just by sister Minnesota State university campuses, but colleges and universities around the country.

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