Budgeting for the future: CWU budget impacted by 20% drop in enrollment

CFO advises against bringing on more staff


Joel Klucking (far left) gives budget presentation. Photo by Beau Sansom

Beau Sansom, Staff Reporter

The Faculty Senate hosted a budget presentation to assess the financial state of CWU and solicit input on systemic solutions on May 10. Chief Financial Officer Joel Klucking led the presentation and reported that CWU is experiencing a budget deficit due to a 20% drop in enrollment. 

“The goal of [the] meeting was to talk about the current budget situation,” Klucking said. “Right now we are projecting a budget deficit and are trying to approach it in a different way, treating it like an adaptive challenge, which doesn’t lend itself to a top-down approach. We have to have solutions coming from the community to help us solve our problem.” 

According to Klucking, this was the fourth in a series of presentations he has delivered to various CWU committees, including the President’s Budget Advisory Committee, the Executive Leadership Team, the United Faculty of Central Bargaining Team, the University Administrative Leadership Team and the Faculty Senate Budget Planning Committee. The presentation placed an emphasis on the decline in enrollment at CWU.

“We’re getting ideas from the community,” Klucking said. “I think that’s the most important part, that people understand what the current real situation is…this isn’t just an enrollment blip, this isn’t going to change next year, it’s going to take a long time to grow out of this.”

CFO Joel Klucking. Photo Courtesy of CWU Office of the President page.

Klucking said he wanted to make it clear that past “transactional” solutions to the budget issue were not effective in the long term. According to Klucking, the root of the problem is that CWU’s ratio of students to faculty is swinging in the direction of having too large a staff compared to the number of students as CWU has lost more students than they have employees. 

According to Klucking, transactional solutions such as this year’s approach of trying to quell a $5.5 million budget deficit through cutting positions, salary and benefits will not be effective long-term. CWU is overstaffed for the level of student enrollment the university has fallen to. 

“The key is that we have to adjust the operations of [CWU] to whatever level of enrollment that we have,” Klucking said. “If we can control ourselves and not overhire either faculty or non-faculty, then that means we might have some money to make some investments that will help promote the university and make us a better place.”

According to Klucking, the drop in enrollment is a problem, yet CWU shouldn’t necessarily hit a bad point, so long as they shift their approach to adapt with the changes as they come rather than continuing to operate in the current manner. 

“I don’t think that there is a bad point, necessarily,” Klucking said. “The key is that we have to adjust the operations of the university to whatever level that we have. If we grow enrollment, great…if enrollment shrinks, that’s fine too, we just have to make sure we adjust as the university shrinks.” 

According to Klucking, one approach to tackling the budget issue is to redeploy current staff to fill in vacant positions they are able to take on rather than hire an entirely new faculty member.

“[We’re] thinking about the cyclic nature of work,” Klucking said. “[We’re] thinking institutionally about that instead of just [going] ‘that’s my person so I’m going to let someone be less busy during one period’, when [we] could redeploy them elsewhere.”

According to Klucking, suggestions have been made to re-evaluate the work that needs to be done to tackle the problem on a systematic and institutional level. 

“I think it’s going to be good for everybody if we can think of ourselves as an organism,” Klucking said. “All parts of the organism need to thrive for us to thrive, and I think that if we do that, we will be much better at serving our students and that is what we’re here for.”

According to Klucking, CWU is still getting its fair share of Washington high school graduates who attend public universities. The issue of declining enrollment in Washington is a problem on a state-wide level, according to Klucking, not just a problem facing CWU. To combat this, focus is beginning to shift toward bringing in more out-of-state students to CWU.

“The name of the game with enrollment starts with building a brand,” Klucking said. “We are doing a lot of outreach, it has been our emphasis really since 2016. We have invested considerably in our marketing and our enrollment management campaigns.”

College enrollment has been declining across all of Washington according to MyNorthwest.com and the Seattle Times. The Tri-Cities area Journal of Business indicates a 12% enrollment decline from fall 2019 to 2021 at EWU, while Western Front Online identified a decline of over 1,000 students at WWU since 2019. 

“There is a relationship between how many students we enroll and how many faculty we need to teach them,” Klucking said. “The university needs to respond appropriately to student enrollment. Although we anticipate a growing incoming class, there are larger classes moving through the system which could lead to a slightly smaller total student enrollment next year, and our faculty employment will likely follow suit.”

At the moment, there is no indication about which departments or areas of CWU will be most impacted by the current financial state of the university.

“I cannot foresee how this will impact individual departments,” Klucking said. “My estimates are mostly at the university or college level. How much general education plays a large factor in how much each department will respond to enrollment, along with many other things.”

According to Klucking, a plan is in the works to address what the university will do should enrollment rise and lead to an increase in funds to put into CWU.

“Our strategic plan should clearly identify the areas that we will be investing in as a university, both administratively and academically,” Klucking said. “ [Ensuring] that we serve our students consistent with our vision, mission and values. This plan is nearing completion.”