Facing $10M deficit, St. Cloud State announces partial hiring freeze

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After another year of declining enrollment, St. Cloud State University is instituting a "flexible hiring freeze" as it tries to cover a projected budget deficit of up to $10 million, the St. Cloud Times reports.

University President Earl Potter announced the move this week in a letter to faculty, staff and students, saying the lower student numbers have hurt the school's finances. The school is projecting a 4 to 5 percent drop in enrollment this fall, on top of a 10 percent decline over the previous four years.

In the fall of 2010, St. Cloud State's enrollment was 18,650. As of last fall it had dropped to 16,765, the Star Tribune reports.

While the number of students has gone down, the number of faculty and staff on the payroll has stayed about the same, Potter said, according to the Times.

Potter said the partial hiring freeze will last through the fiscal year, which ends next summer, and possibly beyond. Hiring will be frozen for all positions on campus except those deemed too important to leave open.

There are other exceptions as well, for positions that are "fully externally funded by contracts and grants," and student employment and graduate assistant positions. Potter added he's not considering layoffs or program cuts right now.

Potter said he hopes the hiring freeze will save about $4 million. The university is working on a two- to three-year plan to close the budget gap that could include using reserve dollars and holding back 5 percent of all non-personnel budgets, according to the Times. The school's total operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year was $210 million.

St. Cloud State has dealt with budget deficits several times in recent years. It had deficits of $6 million in fiscal year 2011 and $13 million in fiscal year 2012, in part due to falling enrollment as well as other factors, the St. Cloud Times notes.

Potter noted that the economy has contributed to the decline in enrollment, as well as the school's decision last year to accept fewer students who need remedial help, according to the Star Tribune.

He also said that colleges and universities across the country are seeing similar challenges, especially because the number of high school seniors is declining as well.

“What we’re trying to do is right-size and figure out what’s the appropriate size for St. Cloud State University,” Potter said, according to the Star Tribune.

All but one institution in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is anticipating enrollment declines, according to the St. Cloud Times.

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