Fall enrollment projections spark concerns over NTT faculty job security

Wohlpart says “too soon” to know


Courtesy of CWU Flickr

Katherine Camarata, Senior Reporter

Early projections for fall 2022 budget and enrollment have caused concern among faculty, staff and department chairs over the future of many Non-Tenure Track (NTT) faculty positions across the university. 

Multiple sources told The Observer they were worried they could lose anywhere from 10-50% of NTT positions in various departments, with one-third being the most common figure reported. 

In an interview on Feb. 23, Wohlpart said: “When I have talked to deans and department heads, I said it’s too soon for you to know how many NTT faculty you’re going to need or not. Our adjunct faculty are mostly general education courses, mostly freshmen and sophomores. We don’t know exactly how many NTT faculty we are going to hire until we have the freshmen.”

Nonetheless, comments from faculty and staff across campus reflected a wave of concern. The Observer reached out to 10 department chairs, three deans, three NTT faculty members and representatives of the Faculty Senate, the Academic Department Chairs Organization (ADCO) and the Provost’s Office.

In addition to President Wohlpart and Provost Michelle DenBeste, sources from six different departments were willing to comment for this story. All of them asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity and timeliness of the topic. 

Several sources said they want to give Wohlpart, who is in his first year at CWU, a chance to be transparent on the issue and handle the changes as compassionately as possible. Wohlpart, DenBeste and two other people interviewed suggested enrollment numbers could improve between now and spring. One department chair said their department was not expecting any staff changes.

“We have not really ever done enrollment projections for freshmen in January and February,” Wohlpart said. “We’re doing things way earlier than we have in the past and these numbers are very tentative.” 

He said he expects to have a better sense of fall freshmen enrollment by May or June, at which time students sign up for orientation and commit to housing.

“If the numbers get pushed out there and they’re all wrong and the message gets sent that our enrollment is going to be down, it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s why I’ve been very careful when I’ve shared the numbers,” Wohlpart said.

According to Wohlpart, “Our primary focus has been on increasing our enrollment so that we can keep all of our faculty and staff. I really don’t expect to see large decreases in any of our numbers.” 

On March 1, he said, “Next week, we’ll have a new projection and new budget. So all of this is going to change by next week.”

Faculty Concerns

One department chair said: “The department chairs have been told to be prepared for a smaller freshmen class. These are tough times for CWU, and we have been told to not hire back faculty next year. Our NTT faculty, some who have been at CWU for many years, will be the first to experience these drastic reductions.” 

“Ellensburg is a small community and the impact of losing so many faculty all at once won’t go unnoticed,” the department chair added. “It could hurt the local economy and even challenge the trust between the school and community. I know we can do a better job as a university by addressing these cuts early and with clarity while also showing respect and compassion for our colleagues. The NTT faculty bring diversity to the university and specialized value to the courses they teach.”

An administrative staff member said: “Classes are not filling as they used to, and classes with low enrollments are at risk for cancellation. Low enrollments could be a result of the pandemic, shifting social and cultural changes, student debt worries and more. Our NTT faculty are concerned that if enough classes don’t fill, they may not have a job to come back to in the fall.”

Another department chair said: “I am doing what I can to protect NTT faculty in our department. We value them, and our students do too. The budget is based on enrollment predictions, which is factored in with the reduction in the number of students we have had over the past two years. These are driving decisions about the need to reduce the number of classes and be strategic with offerings for students to be able to graduate in a timely manner. I am telling faculty that I cannot guarantee them the same class schedules that they have had in the past.”

An NTT faculty member said: “If it’s correct that the deans have the budgets, I think demonstrating care and respect and value to the NTTs would move that communication down through the department chairs and to faculty quickly. We hope CWU will consider the best interest of NTTs in matters of timing and communication. I’m a former administrator, there’s an administrative responsibility to have a secure budgeting process and a transparent one and I think this is what is being done here.”

“In the past, the university has had the best interest of the university in mind. Now, please, have the best interest of the NTTs in mind at the same time. I think if they do, that will send a very powerful statement to the NTTs, those that are not rehired and those that are rehired, because the way they do this might have a chilling effect on the NTTs that stay.”

Another NTT faculty member said: “A distinguishing trait of CWU is that its adjunct (NTT) faculty aren’t really adjunct. They’re core faculty, teaching here full-time for decades, often serving on committees and even directing programs. We are not moonlighting. We’re not flashes in the pan. NTT faculty at Central generally moved here with a commitment to dedicate their professional lives to Central. In urban areas, adjunct faculty are commonly ‘freeway fliers,’ rushing around teaching part-time at each of several institutions. CWU’s geographical isolation prevents this. Where else would Central’s NTT teach?”

The faculty member continued: “Faculty cuts may well be unavoidable, but if Central is really going to use a ‘relational’ rather than a ‘transactional’ model, NTT faculty facing the prospect of losing their careers and livelihoods should be treated with as much respect, compassion and transparency as possible. They should not just be abruptly discarded.”

A Faculty Senator shared a statement from that body: “The Faculty Senate supports all NTT faculty and will do whatever possible to help them through this difficult situation.”

Administration’s Response

According to Provost DenBeste, all of the deans were given budgets based on projected enrollments, and the projections are lower than the Provost’s office anticipates they will end up being. 

“Budgets that we gave them were better than they were expecting,” DenBeste said. “It’s not a horrifyingly scary budget. We are trying to be more strategic about our budgets than we have ever been. We intended to tilt and turn one way or the other, and that makes people frustrated because they don’t know what to expect.”

DenBeste said a group of eight faculty members and people involved with budgeting have been meeting and guiding decisions about budget plans.

“We’ve tried to be more consultative, we’ve had a bunch of different groups talking about this,” DenBeste said. “We know we will have fewer students because we have had smaller classes during the pandemic, but if we have a good amount of incoming students, that will mitigate some of that.”

According to Wohlpart, “Enrollment is a driver for our overall budget,” he said, explaining that the budget is determined by both state appropriation and tuition based on enrollment. Enrollment has been down the last couple years because of COVID-19.

“That’s true across the nation, we’re like all other institutions,” Wohlpart said. “Our new freshmen numbers went from around 2,000 down to I think it was under 1,700, then last year just under 1,500. What we have to do is replace those small classes with a bigger freshmen class. That’ll take us a year or two, but then we’ll get back up to 11,000 or 12,000 students.” 

While DenBeste said that early enrollment projections initially caused concern, she is hopeful that university efforts will continue to turn things around.

“We’ve had really good responses at our Wildcat preview days, our admissions and enrollment teams have been doing things quite a lot differently than previously, working to build relationships, housing is getting paid deposits, so I think that our first year enrollments are going to be a lot better than they have been the last two years. I feel like we are on an upward trajectory,” she said.

Wohlpart pointed to fall quarters of 2015 and 2016 as a model. During those years, CWU had fewer applications, like this year, but more admissions. He said he is optimistic that fall of 2022 could be similar to those years. 

Wohlpart said if enrollment is progressing as it did in fall of 2015 and 2016, there is a chance fall enrollment numbers could be as high as 1,800 or 1,900 freshmen, which would be close to the average number of freshmen who enroll in a standard year.

“Because we’ve been tracking this, our numbers have actually gone up,” Wohlpart said. On March 1, he said the university had over 1,000 students accepted. “In fall of ‘16, I think we had about 930. We ended up with almost 1,900 freshmen [in 2016]. If we end up like that, we’re going to be good.”

One potential benefit to collecting early numbers is having more time to react. 

“We have been making changes to our admissions practices and our marketing practices all year long based on what it is that we’re seeing in the numbers,” Wohlpart said. “In January, we started doing a new and different advertising campaign to recruit new freshmen and that has made a difference.” 

According to Wohlpart, the admissions staff is reaching out to prospective freshmen more and more as the quarter progresses, shifting from a ‘transactional’ to a ‘relational’ model for recruiting students. A transactional model involves purchasing information about high school seniors to target them specifically, while a relational model focuses on building connections with prospective students, their families and school counselors.

“What caused the lower projections that we came up with about a month ago, five weeks ago, I think had everything in the world to do with the fact that it took a little while for our counselors to get into the high schools, for our marketing to get taking off,” Wohlpart said. 

“Our admissions counselors are doing a remarkable job building relationships with high school counselors, students and their families, which is what has turned our projected enrollment numbers around.”

Wohlpart said this boost to admissions outreach is building strong markets and being featured in newspapers, on social media, on the radio and includes geocaching high schools when people visit. “That is going to turn our enrollment around for sure,” Wohlpart said.

“The group that makes the determination of what our projection is, they are meeting next week and they will have a better projection next week,” he continued. “Department heads will have a whole new set of information next Tuesday or Wednesday.”