• Shalom Baer

Dakota Hall to close: Minot State making various efforts to save money in light of projected budget

At a campus budget forum on Feb. 27, President Steven Shirley and Vice President of Finance Brent Winiger presented information on the university’s current financial state. Winiger said that local fund reserves are “running dry,” and there will be an estimated overall $446,755 deficit in the 2021 budget and a $640,306 deficit in the 2022 fiscal year.

“We're talking about 1.2 million dollars or so in funding shortage over the next two years while the reserves are going down. We're okay for a couple years. I don't want to alarm everybody unnecessarily here, but we've got to do something about it. We don't have a lot of choice in that,” Winiger said.

Enrollment struggles

One contributing factor to the university’s financial struggle is a consistent decline in enrollment for the past decade, excluding a 64-student increase in 2015.

“A two or three percent increase would be fantastic and that would change our fortunes quickly, but we also have to look at reality. We have been down two or three percent every year, so flatlined is probably a best-case scenario,” Shirley said.

Enrollment declines are not unique to Minot State. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment in the fall of 2019 declined 1.3% at colleges and universities nationwide.

“We see that all across the country right now. We’re not in this alone,” Winiger said.

In order to combat enrollment issues, administration formed a Strategic Enrollment and Management Committee — also referred to as the Recruit and Enroll Committee — to revamp the university’s strategic enrollment and recruitment plan and attempt to boost the number of students at the university. That committee is chaired by Criminal Justice Chair Gary Rabe and Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Harmon. A Retention and Graduation Committee will work on strategies to retain students until they graduate from Minot State.

New academic programs and possible program cuts

Shirley mentioned that the university has added new programs in an attempt to attract students.

“Some new academic programs in progress and new additions to our portfolio of offerings for students are cybersecurity and exercise science and rehabilitation. A Bachelor of Individualized Studies, a new master's level disability human services, entrepreneurship, medicinal plant chemistry, a new graduate program now coming in math education, the new leadership concentration that we announced,” he said. “Those are more additional new opportunities for prospective students that 24, 36 months ago we did not have. It's broadening our portfolio of offerings to honor not just our current students, but probably more important with this conversation, prospective students.”

While trying to add programs that have a market demand and generate potential students’ interest, Shirley said that cutting programs may be a last resort but will be avoided.

“When I see programs, I'm talking broadly. I'm talking about academics, athletics, student service programs, broadly programs in general. I don't mean that as any one specific type of program, but eliminating those programs that are important for students is going to be one of the last pieces on the totem pole,” Shirley said.

Closing Dakota Hall

According to data from the fall of 2019, 86% of students at Minot State live off-campus. The number of students living on campus has declined from 747 in 2013 to 448 in the fall of 2019. This has led to low capacity in the university’s five residence halls and two apartment buildings.

Minot State’s most historic residence hall, Dakota Hall, built in 1931, will no longer be in use for residents come fall of 2020. The building also houses the military resource center and housing office. Those offices will remain in the building for the time being.

“We’ve projected some savings and what that will do, and it's significant,” Shirley said. “We’ve got excess capacity on this campus. It's part of that sort of new normal. Just because we've had X number of beds on this campus for the last 20 years doesn't mean it necessarily makes sense anymore.”

The fifth floor of Cook Hall will be reopened to make room on campus to house students.

Raising tuition and lowering tuition waivers

The university plans to raise tuition 4% for the 2020-2021 academic year and another 2% in the 2021-2022 academic year. Current tuition and fees at Minot State is $7,592, and a 4% increase adds $304 per year.

“We've already been approved for (the 4%) by the legislature and state boards. The year after that, I only have a 2% increase built in. We can't keep increasing tuition 4% every year. That's above the rate of inflation. It's above what our competitors are doing right now,” Winiger said. “We’re perceived as having a good value. We want to keep that.”

Administration also plans to decrease the amount of tuition waivers and discounts that are given to students.

“That's something that can easily get out of control. We all want to give more money to incoming students in order to try to entice them to come here. They’re all good purposes, but we still need to get that under control,” Winiger said.

Soft freeze on hiring

The 2020 fiscal year, which ends in June, will finish in the black with an extra $462,625, but Winiger said that is largely due to empty staff and faculty positions that were budgeted for but not filled this year. Shirley said that all vacant positions are being scrutinized for necessity and he is implementing a “soft freeze” on hiring, although there are some new positions that the university plans to add, such as a cybersecurity position, an athletics trainer, and an accounting faculty position.

“This does not mean that it’s just an automatic no on every single decision or hiring piece, but it’s a new reality that we have right now. It’s just the position that we find ourselves in. We really have to scrutinize very closely every single position,” Shirley said.

Other measures

Another step that administration plans to take is a decrease in the number of renovations on campus. Last year, the university replaced a number of windows to increase energy savings, among other renovations. Shirley said that similar renovations are not in the near future.

“We were able to do those things last year. I think those renovations were all welcome. They were all needed, so I wouldn't change those decisions one bit. We just will not have the luxury to be able to do that in that in the immediate future,” he said.

It does not appear that this slow in renovations will affect Student Center renovation plans, which will be funded by student fees rather than university funds from tuition and other sources.

Minot State will also conduct a five-year $40 million capital campaign to increase financial support for the university.

“It's a push, but it's realistic, too. We've got a lot of donors that believe through and through in Minot State University,” Shirley said. “We're going to be working with a lot of those donors to raise dollars that will support our students but will also support the faculty and staff here at Minot State. I'm excited about that. I'm excited to get out and start selling that message to a lot of really good folks who believe in this place and raise those dollars, that there's no better time that we need them than right now.”

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