Program cuts, retirement incentives part of the plan to address SMSU deficit

MARSHALL – Southwest Minnesota State University is continuing to take steps to address a $3.2 million projected deficit, SMSU President Connie Gores said Thursday. Some of those steps, announced this week, will include the discontinuation of some academic programs and offers of early retirement incentives for faculty.

“Just like all of higher education, we are facing some changes,” Gores said. Both funding support for the university and enrollment demographics are changing, and those changes mean the university needs to find new ways to survive and sustain its future.

“We are making progress toward that,” she said.

Gores said in the past few weeks, the university has followed a process to examine areas for possible budget reductions. That process included gathering feedback from SMSU faculty and staff on reductions or program discontinuations. The feedback was used to help narrow down a more specific list of discontinuations, Gores said.

Gores said the academic offerings that will be discontinued include both the minor and major in Spanish, the bachelor of science degree in chemistry and minors in geology and French. Gores said those cuts were partly based on student choices and what was most sustainable for the university. For example, she said, SMSU already offers a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry, and more students have been pursuing that degree than the bachelor of science. The geology minor was already in the process of being phased out, she said.

Gores stressed that the university will still offer courses in French and Spanish but not a full minor or major program.

Program cuts wouldn’t necessarily go into effect right away. Gores said part of the process will be to examine the numbers of students potentially affected by the cuts and to help already-enrolled students complete their majors.

“We will try to minimize the negative effects on students,” Gores said. She said program cuts could have ended up being much more extensive, if not for solutions put forward with the help of faculty and staff.

Gores said another option to help address the deficit will be to offer early separation incentives for university faculty. If qualifying faculty members accept the incentives, it could mean savings in salary costs for the university. Gores said more detailed information on the potential savings will take shape over the next few weeks.

She said administration, faculty and staff will also examine ways to increase efficiency across all areas of the university. She said SMSU administrators will continue to work together with faculty through the budget process and find solutions for financial and academic concerns.

“We’ve been very transparent and very open,” about what the budget process will entail, Gores said.

Gores acknowledged that addressing the deficit will be a long, complex process.

“It’s frustrating for people, because they want to know right now, how are we going to solve this?” she said. However, she said continued community support for SMSU is important now more than ever, and student recruitment and retention efforts will be “absolutely key” for SMSU’s future.