Employees are facing the consequences as Northern Arizona University is making significant budget cuts for the start of a new fiscal year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Losses are estimated from $30 million to $100 million, NAU President Rita Cheng shared in an April 17 letter to the university community. This equates to almost 20% of the university’s operating budget, she explained in another letter last week, and is a result of “unprecedented enrollment challenges as a result of demographic changes, shifting attitudes about the value of a college degree, and declining numbers of high school graduates.” COVID-19 has worsened the situation, Cheng said.
In a letter from the Office of the Provost to university department leaders, dated April 24, departments were asked to adjust their Fall 2020 budgets to schedule for “25% lower enrollment and/or personnel expenses, which will likely result in fewer faculty next year.” An attached disclaimer said these numbers and instructions could be altered.
On May 4, in a Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Diane Stearns broke down enrollment decreases by college, with three experiencing the largest changes: the College of Arts and Letters is down 35%; the College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences, 27%; and the W.A. Franke College of Business, 22%.
“This is not a financial situation that can simply be weathered through minor adjustments and temporary fixes to our operating budget,” NAU spokesperson Kimberly Ott told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We need to make decisions that recognize this new operational reality and ensure fiscal sustainability for our institution that will allow NAU to continue to meet its strategic goals of student access and success.”