Tromp: Job cuts, program cuts inevitable at Boise State

Boise State University will have to cut jobs and operations in order to manage the fiscal fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, President Marlene Tromp said Tuesday.

“We have yet to see the full breadth of economic impact from these uncertain times,” Boise State University President Marlene Tromp said Tuesday.

“Going forward, we will have some cuts in our workforce and operations, striving to mitigate the impact on our people as much as possible,” Tromp said in a memo to the university community. “Some of these may happen with more immediacy, depending upon the considerations in each unit. There also will be places in which we will need to invest to secure a healthy future for our university. Determinations in each unit will unfold over time and are dependent on the highest needs in those areas.”

While the memo did not lay out details on layoffs or program cuts, it spelled out the scope of the financial crisis facing the state’s largest university.

  • The athletic department faces at least a $10 million to $15 million loss — and if the football season is canceled, the losses could reach $25 million to $30 million.
  • A state budget holdback cut Boise State’s 2020-21 tax revenues by $5.4 million. And the university does not anticipate receiving any new revenue for pay raises or increased benefits costs, and expects no new revenue to cover costs related to enrollment increases. “This significantly reduces our resources to support our most valuable asset for our mission: the employees that make our university great.”
  • In an effort to open for the fall — with a blend of online and face-to-face learning — the university hired 25 new public health employees and made a “significant investment” to convert Extra Mile Arena and the Morrison Center into socially distanced classroom space, Tromp said. “It has also become increasingly urgent that we make additional investments in counseling services to better support the mental health needs of our community,” she wrote.

The memo included one glimmer of good news on enrollment — but even this was mixed.

Enrollment increased slightly, by about 0.5 percent. Graduate school enrollment increased and Boise State saw a surge in out-of-state enrollment, as students fled states where colleges and universities went entirely online. For new undergraduate students from Idaho, enrollment dropped by 6 percent. “This decline likely has occurred for financial reasons,” Tromp wrote. “Many families experienced job loss and either couldn’t afford to send a student to school or needed the student to help support the family.”

Tuesday’s memo outlined the latest in a series of cost-cutting moves at Boise State. This spring, Tromp ordered staff furloughs to offset sudden coronavirus-related revenue losses. The university also phased out professional staff contracts, a move that could allow the university to lay off workers or cut positions.

 

Here is Tromp’s memo, in full:

 

Dear colleagues,

I write today to update you on our budget situation, as I promised I would in the spring.

Context

This year has been filled with more challenges than many of us could have imagined. The pandemic, followed by an economic crisis, and then impassioned Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests, and now the fires that are plaguing the West Coast and Northwest. These events have layered on significant stressors for all members of our community. The uncertainties have been painful for everyone, perhaps especially for those with children who are schooling at home and for Bronco families — those folks who have multiple family members employed at Boise State. At the outset, I want to acknowledge the toll this has taken on our community.   

One of the most frustrating factors for all of us in this process has been the impossibility of predicting the future. We can’t know with certainty when we will have a vaccine, more widespread and faster testing, better treatments or less restrictions, nor can we predict the impacts of any medical advances, including how they will influence people’s behavior and student choices. We have yet to see the full breadth of economic impact from these uncertain times.

I deeply regret these stressors, and I’m so sorry our community has experienced so much strain. I look forward to a period when our world feels more predictable, once again. As one colleague said to me, “I would be grateful for some precedented times, instead of so many unprecedented ones.”

In spite of all the hardships, our community has been so creative, innovative and responsive to the challenges we face. Thank you most sincerely for the work that made possible our reopening and our fall term. 

Financial Factors

This spring, I identified the unexpected financial pressures (about $14 million in refunds and a significant reduction in revenues from auxiliaries, like the Bronco Shop, Morrison Center and Extra Mile Arena), as well as some additional factors that would play a key role in our budget for this fall. Some factors have abated; others have become more pressing. I outline them here for clarity, and will discuss each one.

– Enrollment  
– Athletics
– Reduction in Revenues
– State Budget Cuts
– COVID-Related Expenses
– Additional Unexpected COVID-Related Costs

Enrollment

Thanks to an incredible effort by our community on many fronts, including student affairs, enrollment services, our faculty and staff, and our significant university reintegration effort, which built a plan to bring our community back to campus and keep them here safely, our enrollment did not decline.  

We had anticipated a more than 3 percent increase in students pre-COVID. Instead, we saw an approximately 0.5 percent increase in our student body. We experienced an approximately 6 percent decrease in new undergraduate Idaho students. This decline likely has occurred for financial reasons. Many families experienced job loss and either couldn’t afford to send a student to school or needed the student to help support the family. We saw an increase in out-of-state students. This is likely because many institutions (for example the UC and CSU in California) remained primarily remote, and students who wanted an on-campus experience saw Boise State as a compelling opportunity. Finally, we saw a slight increase in graduate students of about 0.9 percent. This is likely folks who are out of work or feel their work is threatened, and who are seeking to upskill.

We are still awaiting our official student “census,” which will be completed in late October. This will give us a better understanding of how this precise configuration of students affects our budget. We are funded by the state differently for students in different categories; Idaho residents, out-of-state students, out-of-state students who are WUE-eligible all pay different tuition rates; and students in different programs pay different fees. Further, we remain unsure of how the pandemic and other factors will ultimately affect student behavior in the fall and spring. For example, will students stay in school after their experience this fall? Will students remain enrolled if there is a temporary closure?

We can’t, of course, predict how the pandemic might affect our community’s physical health over the next several months, either. While we are learning more about the virus all the time and have made an extraordinary effort to be prepared, there is much we don’t know. Public health experts remain concerned about the potential of an overlapping flu season with the pandemic.

Athletics

In my letter this spring, we noted that there were significant costs associated with athletics, and that one of the most serious considerations would be our capacity to compete this fall. This summer, the Mountain West Conference decided to indefinitely postpone athletic competitions until we could be certain that our student athletes would be safe when they played. Protecting our student athletes should always be our priority. This decision, however, has serious financial implications for Boise State Athletics.  

We anticipate losses ranging between $10 million and $15 million, even with the savings generated by the absence of travel and other costs for competitions. Significant appropriate costs still persist without the revenue: our student athletes remain on scholarship, are still training and preparing, and our coaches and support staff must be there to aid them. Just as with enrollment and economic behaviors, we still don’t yet know what the future holds for Bronco Sports. There have been conversations about the possibility of resuming competition, with athlete and staff safety at the forefront. Please see this Mountain West statement.  

Already, Athletics has had to make some very difficult and painful decisions to balance their budget. Serious financial challenges remain for our beloved sports programs, and those must be addressed.  

Reduction in Revenues

Many of our auxiliary units experienced heavy losses this spring and summer. Because of COVID restrictions, most continue to see losses this fall. For example, when the Bronco Shop couldn’t serve customers, they couldn’t generate the revenue to support their staff. As long as the Morrison Center can’t host performances, the same remains true for them. When we don’t have football games that bring our amazing fan base to our community, many of our units suffer a loss of sales. If we do not have a football season this year, these losses likely will be between $25 million and $30 million.  

We don’t know how long these units will be affected, but many of them, such as housing, dining and parking, must continue to supply their critical services in order for our campus to remain open. Despite the losses they’ve faced, we must ensure that they are wholly functional. This has significant effects on the budget.

State Budget Cuts

You will recall that we had experienced a 2 percent mid-term budget cut last year. Our appropriated base budget for this year was reduced 2 percent through the legislative process, and, in addition, due to reduced tax revenues in the state, we have been called upon to submit to another 5 percent one-time hold-back this year (about $5.4 million). The state did not approve a CEC (Change in Employee Compensation) for this year, and we have been advised not to anticipate funding for CEC for next year, FY2022. Further, we have been told not to anticipate state funding for CEC, increased employee benefit costs, enrollment increases for next year. This significantly reduces our resources to support our most valuable asset for our mission: the employees that make our university great. Bridging these shortfalls and funding necessary items, like CEC and increased employee benefit costs, will require cuts in other areas.   

With the ongoing impacts of COVID and the economic crisis that has followed, we remain uncertain about other pressures that may play a role in our state’s approach to funding in the future.  

COVID-Related Expenses

To open our campus and keep it open, we have had to rethink how we operate, and shift many of our processes and practices. We have created and staffed a new public health office, brought in a team of healthcare providers to support isolating and quarantining students, invested millions in upgraded technology to better serve our students and faculty, provided significant additional training and support this summer to prepare faculty for disruptions, and are in the process of opening a brand-new, region-wide COVID testing center that will help us keep our community healthy and safe. We hired 25 new public health employees, and more than 700 faculty participated in more than 16,000 hours of additional training this summer. Utilizing the Morrison Center and Extra Mile Arena has made many socially distanced classes possible, but they cost more to use as classrooms than the smaller, standard rooms they replaced. These changes made our success this fall possible and were critical to our enrollment, but they also required significant investment.  

It has also become increasingly urgent that we make additional investments in counseling services to better support the mental health needs of our community. People all over the world are experiencing high levels of stress. Some measures are showing that people aged 18-26 are seeing a 400 percent increase in anxiety, depression and suicidality. The American Journal of Managed Care is reporting that 7 out of 10 employees are experiencing this time as the most stressful period of their entire career. Our own community has indicated the impact of these stressors on them. We have a responsibility to respond.

Other COVID-Related Costs

We can’t predict if there will be additional expenses related to the pandemic or, specifically, what challenges lie ahead. We are working diligently to anticipate a variety of possibilities and prepare for them, but so much remains unknown. At Boise State, our expertise in online teaching and learning, as well as the specialized support we gave to faculty this summer, will help our students succeed whether they are remote or face-to-face, but such efforts may have ongoing or additional expenses. We owe a real debt of gratitude to our reintegration committee for making an on-campus experience possible, as well as the efforts of many people to keep campus safe. But we don’t know what student behavior to anticipate, if, for example, we have to transition temporarily to remote learning (as Notre Dame did a few weeks ago). 

Next Steps

Leaders from your divisions and departments were asked to work with their areas to develop, and then share with me, prospective plans for navigating budget challenges and best positioning us for the future. I take very seriously their wise advice. Going forward, we will have some cuts in our workforce and operations, striving to mitigate the impact on our people as much as possible. Some of these may happen with more immediacy, depending upon the considerations in each unit. There also will be places in which we will need to invest to secure a healthy future for our university. Determinations in each unit will unfold over time and are dependent on the highest needs in those areas.

The financial challenges we are facing are serious, but could have been far graver. I am incredibly proud of the ways in which our whole community has responded to all the difficulties we have faced since March. People worked long hours educating our students and their families to prevent enrollment declines and to reach out to current students. You have all served with passion and generosity in a new environment. You have developed innovative solutions to our most serious challenges. As an institution, we have improved our ability to deliver flexible and online courses to meet the student needs in this tumultuous time — and far beyond. Despite the challenges, we continue to push forward with our cutting-edge teaching and world-changing research endeavors.  

It was the caring, committed, and compassionate nature of Boise State that first drew me here, and I recognize the hardship that our university community already has experienced. Thank you for all that you do to advance our life-changing mission. Thank you, too, for your courage and resilience in this difficult time. I remain confident that Boise State will continue to do what it has always done best — positively impact our state and the lives of all students who place their trust in us.  

With Gratitude,
Dr. Marlene Tromp
President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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