Facing fiscal challenges with our #GoCougs Spirit
For more than a year now, President Schulz has been communicating to staff, faculty, and students regarding Washington State University’s budget situation. Last week, he provided an update that outlined plans for the current fiscal year. I wanted to take a moment to explain how these decisions will impact the Division of Student Affairs.
One of the statements I made at the open forum during my Vice President of Student Affairs interview was that our division would be intentional, strategic, and purposeful in all aspects of resource allocation. I noted that we, as a Student Affairs team, would make values-based decisions. We would, as models to the students we serve, be effective, efficient, transparent, and accountable as stewards of the resources we are given.
We will discuss the budget in depth at the Division of Student Affairs all-staff meeting on November 20 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. in the CUB M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom.
Our current situation
When I arrived in February 2017, I reviewed the Division of Student Affairs fiscal situation. The picture was sobering. During the most recent three-year period, our division faced at least $1.2 million in permanent reductions and internal reallocations of state monies. Inevitably, the division’s administrative structure suffered including the elimination of critical positions in the Office of the Vice President, the Dean of Students Office, and Access, Equity, and Achievement areas. Salaries of staff including the Division’s Area Finance Officer were transferred to other divisions or were permanently eliminated, like the centrally funded Graduate Assistant positions that directly served students in many of our departments.
In the midst of our past fiscal challenges, however, we have led with our students’ needs and interests in our decision making since I arrived. These included:
- The hiring of the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center Director and the Women’s Resource Center Director affirmed our commitment to students who had been underserved due to long vacant positions.
- The Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center officially opened in August. Student Affairs took a leadership role in managing the building because of our facilities expertise.
- Our strategic investments have supported speakers for student, faculty and staff organizations, professional development for staff
We also looked internally, focusing on collaborative and entrepreneurial efforts to rethink how we do our work. As a way to reduce costs and streamline marketing and communication efforts in all 22 departments, we centralized staff using all of our available funding sources. We are also in the process of integrating budget and human resource functions which are decentralized across multiple departments. These efforts will reduce duplication throughout the division.
The University’s commitment to our reinvigorated Division of Student Affairs has been unequivocal. President Schulz is providing funds for the new Associate Vice President of Community, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence position. In addition, we will also fill the existing vacant position of the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs in order to meet the needs of the University community.
What we are being asked to do
In the midst of these proactive changes, we are also being asked to partner with our colleagues across the University in righting the University’s fiscal situation. Divisionally, we contributed by spending down our state reserves, depleting carry-forward to unsustainable levels, and funding temporary positions and programs without permanent
The President’s recent directive asked every unit to reduce expenditures by 2.5% and increase reserves. It is critical to note that these reductions in expenditures will remain with the Division of Student Affairs and these reductions will likely be required for at least the next 3 years.
The President outlined actions units could take to address the reduction in expenditures. These suggestions included:
- Hiring only essential positions,
- Reducing or deferring travel or other operating expenses that are non-essential,
- Discontinuing services that are not fully meeting constituent needs,
- Consolidating services or units to reduce duplication and gain efficiencies,
- Holding vacant positions open as long as possible,
- Not awarding increases outside of planned salary increase programs.
Only 3.1% of the Division of Student Affairs’ budget is state funded. This 3.1% equals approximately $5.3 million and supports directly, either through staff salaries or program operations, 17 of our 22 departments. Our 2.5% target for reducing expenditures is $132,625 for FY18. We
must also increase our reserves in the coming year.
Our plan for moving forward
The good news is that the Division of Student Affairs had already begun the process of departmental budget reviews. Our department leaders were charged with creating and forecasting reduced expenditures budget models. The exercise was designed to help division leaders think intentionally, strategically, and purposefully about how to allocate resources in a prolonged period of reduced expenditure authority. As soon as the Division’s specific target was identified in early October, our fiscal staff focused on two major areas: reviewing all state-funded areas for potential 2.5% expenditure reductions and eliminating unsustainable expenditures from our reserves.
All departments within the Division of Student Affairs will face reduced expenditures in the coming years. This will be difficult because every department serves an important role in the lives of our students.
One of our earliest strategies was to realign the division’s departments to gain synergies in units that provide similar services, leverage the strengths of our revenue generating units, and centralize key functions to maximize staff expertise.
Making promises we can keep
University leadership made a decision to centralize diversity and inclusion efforts under one umbrella in our division. While the hiring of the Associate Vice President for Community, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence is still many months away, I have temporarily taken on responsibilities of that role including thorough review of budget, staffing, and expenditures in departments which will report to the new Associate Vice President.
While past practice had been to fill positions with temporary appointments and reserve funding, our budget review found that Multicultural Student Services (MSS) has sufficient permanent funding to support an additional 1.5 Retention Counselors. Equity and Diversity also has permanent funding to support one position. By reallocating resources within MSS, we will be able to fund the remaining .5 FTE in order to hire two MSS Retention Counselors.
While we are exceedingly grateful for the efforts of staff who have served in temporary appointments, it is essential that open, competitive search processes are implemented. To that end, I have authorized three positions (two MSS Retention Counselors, one Manager in Equity and Diversity) to be posted in early spring 2018 with expected start date of July 1, 2018. We will follow University-approved procedures for hiring these permanently funded positions, including the formation of search committees and campus open forums to meet finalists.
These actions demonstrate the creative and innovative thinking necessary to meet the needs of students, while adjusting to our current
fiscal realities. Programs, activities, and events will need to be realigned, re-organized, and scaled back in this current budget climate and for the foreseeable future. Initiatives and efforts may need to be delayed and some priorities shifted to future years in order to ensure we have the funding secured to make sustainable, systemic change.
That said, we will continue to work with student groups who have identified gaps in current programs and services.
You might be asking yourself, what can I do to help? First, continue with renewed energy and vigor the amazing work you do serving our students. It is important, now more than ever, to remember that every role in the division—from our recreation facilities to dining halls, from late night concerts to service learning, from leadership workshops to student led conferences—helps Cougs get across that stage at graduation.
Second, please attend our Division of Student Affairs all-staff meeting on November 20 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. in the CUB M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom. We will spend time reviewing our Student Affairs budget, identify specific reductions from the myriad of funding sources we utilize, and explore opportunities to face these challenges with a #GoCougs spirit.
Mary Jo Gonzales, Vice President