Green: Financial turnaround ‘has literally saved’ the U of I

C. Scott Green has had to deliver plenty of bad financial news with employees and faculty over the past 15 months.

So on Tuesday, the University of Idaho president did little to contain his enthusiasm as he shared some good news and hailed a turnaround that he said has “literally saved the university.” The U of I has covered some $40 million in operating losses, and is working off a surplus of $900,000.

C. Scott Green

“We not only did what was asked of us for this year, we exceeded it, evaluating every expenditure for the good of the university,” Green said in an email to students, faculty and staff. “Together, we stopped the financial bleeding and created capacity to respond to the many challenges presented by COVID-19.”

Green inherited an operating shortfall in July 2019 when he returned to his alma mater as president. And like most colleges and universities, the U of I absorbed an immediate financial hit when the coronavirus pandemic forced the campus to close in the spring. The U of I’s spring losses came to about $7 million — and Green has said the university could face additional losses if it cannot continue to provide face-to-face learning for 2020-21.

Green again acknowledged a drop in enrollment — another consequence of the pandemic. Green had projected a possible enrollment decline of about 5 percent. But the enrollment dropoff figures to be steeper, since fewer high school students are taking dual-credit classes through the U of I.

“We are analyzing the financial impact of the decline but expect it will be manageable,” Green said. “In the meantime, let’s continue on the course we have set for ourselves.”

Here, in full, is Green’s memo:

“Our audited financial results are in and we have a lot to be proud of at the University of Idaho.

“In one year, you improved our cash position by $22 million. By paying close attention to your spending and putting the university first, the operating losses of 2018 ($21 million) and 2019 ($19 million) were reversed in 2020 to an operating surplus of over $900,000. This result is particularly impressive when you consider the financial impact COVID-19 had on our operations. Year over year, improvements were widespread, coming from nearly all university operations across the state. In short, we not only did what was asked of us for this year, we exceeded it, evaluating every expenditure for the good of the university. Together, we stopped the financial bleeding and created capacity to respond to the many challenges presented by COVID-19.

“FY21 brought additional challenges, even prior to the pandemic. In addition to the $14 million we cut in FY20, we projected an additional $8 million budget deficit for a total of $22 million. We used our Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, Optional Retirement Incentive Program and other separations to meet much of this deficit.

“While our unrestricted net position has also improved by more than $4 million, our reserves are still well below Regent (State Board of Education) requirements. In short, we have disrupted the trend and should rightly be proud of the incredible progress made. However, we are not financially in the clear yet and need to maintain our focus on headcount, operating expenses and cash management.

“In addition to these improvements, we have decreased our Other Post-Employment Benefits liability by $14 million. This improvement, stemming from plan changes and market growth, is in addition to the projected savings from changes made to the delivery of the plan that were approved early this year.

“For all of this, we can be proud.

“Enrollment will be finalized and communicated this week and we know it will be down more than expected due to low dual enrollment numbers. We are analyzing the financial impact of the decline but expect it will be manageable. In the meantime, let’s continue on the course we have set for ourselves.

“I want to thank every Vandal for the stunning progress we have made in a single year; proof positive that Vandals just get it done. The work you are doing has literally saved the university. Thank you for doing your part to help bring us back to financial health.

“Go Vandals!”

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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