by Annie Kelby
Changes have been made at The University of Northwestern – St. Paul, changes that’ll affect both students and faculty in the upcoming year. The first of these two changes is the decision to freeze tuition for the 2014-2015 academic year.
President Alan Cureton has played a key role is trying to keep the cost of attending the university down.
“For the past two years the administration has been collecting responses and comments from exit interviews with students who were either transferring or graduating,” Cureton said. “The results emerging from the exit interviews of non-returning students clearly identify affordability as a key reason for a student’s decision to transfer to another institution. While a lack of major or institutional fit was sometimes listed, the dominant response was affordability.”
The price of attending UNW is quite steep, and this presents a problem to many attending and prospective students.
“While graduating students ranked the experience of a Northwestern degree quite high, they also ranked affordability as the greatest challenge,” Cureton said. “Also, as our Admissions officers communicate with prospective students and families, the affordability factor is very often a part of the conversation.”
With a team of people behind the tuition freeze, the school moved to act on the decision.
“So, in response to the research and feedback, the administration, with support from faculty senate leadership, decided to take a bold step in addressing the affordability question,” Cureton said. “Northwestern would freeze tuition for the 2015-2016 academic year. The Board of Trustees agreed with the administration’s recommendation.”
The decision to freeze next year’s tuition is ultimately a response to students’ own cry for financial assistance and affordability.
“For the past several years, 2010 to 2015, the traditional day-school student enrollment has been declining even though overall enrollment has been increasing due to graduate school enrollment and online enrollment through PSEO and online courses,” Cureton said. “With the decrease in traditional student enrollment, adjustments must be implemented for the next fiscal year to stay within our budget revenue.”
Through this decision, UNW has taken into account the students and how to manage its finances with Biblical integrity.
“The university has been able to balance its budget the past five years by being very wise and prudent in the stewardship of our resources,” Cureton said. “The freeze is in response to students’ plea for the Northwestern experience to remain affordable. The budget changes are in response to the need to be good stewards.”
The tuition freeze isn’t the only change UNW will be experiencing in the days to come. Due to budget cuts, five professors have been notified that their contracts will not be renewed for the 2014-2015 academic year.
“Four data points were used to identify the departments requiring budget cuts: historically declining enrollment, historically increasing expenses, student-to-faculty ratio, full-time to adjunct faculty ratio,” Cureton said. “Four criteria were then utilized to determine potential position eliminations: nature of contract (.75, instructor, regular, extended), program reduction or elimination, seniority, redundancy of expertise. While I cannot provide details related to specific personnel decisions due to employment privacy laws, I can say the entire process was vetted carefully and thoughtfully, with each decision immersed in prayer and in accordance with the university’s employment policies (Faculty Handbook).”
With money being tight, these changes to the budget were necessary. “We will be cutting back in operating expenses as well,” Cureton said, “but personnel cuts were necessary to meet our budgetary goals.”
With these layoffs, some students are wondering what will happen to their specific programs.
“Journalism is the only program that has been eliminated in recent years, a process that took place nearly two years ago,” Cureton said. “The teach-out of that program has been smooth. A thorough vetting process is necessary before any program can be eliminated, and a teach-out plan will always be implemented. No additional program eliminations are scheduled to take place for next year.”
Although necessary, these decisions were not taken lightly.
“Every faculty and staff member is an important part of the university community, bringing unique gifts and strengths,” Cureton said. “While we cannot replace each unique individual, we will continue to serve our students with excellence and with a strong commitment to Christ-centered programs.”
And during this period of change, it is important to remember that these hard decisions were made through prayer and after great thought.
“Our goal is to keep the Northwestern experience affordable at the highest level of quality,” Cureton said. “The university is taking steps to position itself for a vibrant and thriving future. As these adjustments in budgets and personnel are implemented, know that significant thought, time and prayer went into each decision. As we continue to pray for faculty and staff members affected, I ask that every student pray for them as well. Your prayers and support will make a difference.”