ISU president outlines bleak budget outlook

POCATELLO — Waning enrollment, state budget cuts and plummeting revenue from the coronavirus pandemic have put Idaho State University on track for a projected $16 million deficit heading into the 2020-21 budget year.

ISU President Kevin Satterlee on Wednesday walked faculty and staff through the seemingly “overwhelming and scary” numbers and their looming impacts on the university’s nearly 1,850 employees, who received over $171 million in salaries and benefits in 2019.

ISU President Kevin Satterlee detailed a bleak budget outlook for faculty and staff last week.

“I will not gloss over the fact that this will be hard, and we will be forced to make hard decisions and endure real budget reductions,” Satterlee said.

A hiring freeze is already in place, Satterlee announced, with a plan to eliminate 120 vacant positions or leave them unfilled. Other options to trim spending include:

  • Budget cuts of up to 6 percent in 2021.
  • Non-renewal of some contracts.
  • Employee furloughs.
  • Restructuring administrative units.
  • An early retirement program.

A combination of factors set the stage, said Satterlee. ISU started the year with a planned $6 million deficit, and hoped to grow its way out of the hole with increased enrollment. But enrollment continued to drop, leaving tuition revenues around $3 million below budget projections.

On top of that: a 1 percent state budget cut this year, which meant a loss of about $1 million for ISU.

On top of that: another holdback related to COVID-19, resulting in another $1 million shortfall.

These realities ballooned the $6 million deficiency “that we could weather” to a projected $11 million year-end deficit, Satterlee said.

But that doesn’t paint the whole bleak picture. Refunds and lost revenue fueled by the pandemic will add up to some $3 million by year’s end, Satterlee said. These are one-time losses that won’t carry over to next year.

But there’s the prospect of another $5 million state holdback, which would carry over.

Gov. Brad Little recently told ISU and other higher ed institutions to prepare for an additional 5 percent holdback, which would come to about a $5 million reduction for ISU.

That would bring ISU’s 2021 deficit to $16 million, Satterlee announced.

And that assumes the university can buck years-long enrollment declines.

“If those enrollments drop, the budget deficit gets more problematic,” said Satterlee, who called on faculty to “reach out to students … during this most trying time.”

“Actively reach out to them,” Satterlee added. “Be responsive to their needs. Ensure that they are able to finish this semester and, importantly, that they continue to next semester, because our enrollments depend on that.”

Satterlee also outlined plans for a “meaningful and strategic look at what we do and whether we can continue to do things as we have in the past.”

“Today, we’re in a different situation than we thought,” he said, adding, “We are all in this together.”

Further reading: Funding uncertainties at ISU and Idaho’s other colleges and universities follow the state’s first college tuition freeze in at least four decades

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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