Decreased enrollment, revenue loss fuels 23 layoffs at Bemidji State University
BSU/NTC President John Hoffman detailed that post-pandemic enrollment has dropped by approximately 20%, which has resulted in $9 million in revenue loss and a $9 million deficit for the institution.
BEMIDJI — Bemidji State University announced on Tuesday that 23 employees will be laid off starting May 23 to address revenue loss due to decreased enrollment.
In an all-employee email sent out March 14, BSU and Northwest Technical College President John Hoffman detailed that post-pandemic enrollment has dropped by approximately 20%, which has resulted in $9 million in revenue loss and a $9 million deficit for the institution.
Hoffman noted that BSU’s enrollment was “quite strong” from 2012 to 2019 and outperformed other institutions in the Minnesota State System of Colleges and Universities until the pandemic began.
After pursuing alternative methods to address the deficit, administration consulted with each bargaining unit along with on-campus supervisors to enact layoffs, which will affect five probationary faculty, a senior administrator and other roles that will be restructured.
“We walked through a number of our processes over the past year,” Hoffman told the Pioneer Tuesday morning. “We engaged in some operational cuts, we’ve tried to limit the number of re-hires following departures, enacted early retirement incentives, and those have all helped us but they’re not going to be enough to close the gap.”
BSU and NTC offered 63 early retirement offers to faculty and staff through the Board Early Separation Incentive. This program aims to encourage the early separation of select employees from Minnesota State schools in order to reduce salary and benefit obligations to achieve cost savings. Thirty percent of staff accepted these offers according to Hoffman.
The email added that no layoffs will take effect prior to May 23 and no NTC employees will be affected. Hoffman noted that layoffs are the “last step” during budget cut processes.
“These layoff decisions are not based on performance, but on our analysis of strategies to enact our mission with a smaller workforce,” the email said.
Hoffman emphasized that no academic or co-curricular programs will be cut.
“So our core identity is going to remain the same in terms of who we are,” Hoffman said, “providing that high-quality, affordable education, but it will be with these layoffs.”
Investing in higher education
In the midst of layoffs, BSU hopes to follow a comprehensive enrollment management strategy and invest in areas that can help BSU rebuild its enrollment. Hoffman specifically noted the work of Carola Thorson, associate vice president for enrollment management at BSU and NTC.
“Fundamentally, the belief is that we’re growing. Even while we’re making cuts, we’re making investments in other areas,” Hoffman said, “making investments in enrollment management and other areas that are going to help us grow as an institution. The needs in northern Minnesota are still much greater than what we’re able to provide.”
Along the theme of investing in higher education, he also hopes for greater state appropriation for the Minnesota State System, which is in the process of seeking $350 million from the state legislature for the 2024-2025 fiscal year in order to fund the system’s 26 colleges and seven universities.
Their biennial budget request is divided into three categories: student support, workforce and economic development, and Minnesota State stabilization.
Under student support, $125 million would directly support students’ critical needs with a focus on affordability. Within that category, $77 million would go toward a tuition freeze and expansion of free textbook offerings, two areas that aim to enhance a student’s access to higher education.
If fully funded, BSU would receive an estimated $427,000 to expand student support services, and nearly 6,000 students would benefit from a tuition freeze and greater access to free textbooks.
The system would then be allocated $100 million for workforce and economic development with the remaining $125 million going toward Minnesota State stabilization. The stabilization category would aim to maintain academic programs and further address affordable tuition.
BSU would receive close to $4 million in stabilization funding to ensure programs and services remain available with $596,000 allocated to NTC.
In Minnesota State’s 2022-2023 request, the system received $56.4 million of their requested $120 million. The allocation included $45 million for campus support, $3 million for equity and affordability, and $8.4 million for additional legislative-funded priorities.
“It’s a great investment that’s been demonstrated to have a phenomenal return on investment,” Hoffman said, “but even with new investments coming from the state, it’s not going to bridge the gap that we need to address in the coming years.”
In the coming weeks, providing care to departing employees is a top priority for Hoffman, who added that employees are committed to the students and mission of BSU.
“While we don’t always provide the best salary in the region, we like to be able to provide greater job stability to our employees,” Hoffman said. “That’s part of the reason it’s really difficult to engage in layoffs because it’s more than a job for these folks. It’s a part of giving back.”
Administration will provide professional development training and additional support to design new strategies for the work at both institutions that will fit with the resulting workforce later this spring.