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University of Baltimore rolls out furlough plan amid declining enrollment

Faced with falling enrollment, the University of Baltimore has cut nearly 400 employees’ salaries to save money.

The school made the cuts by furloughing workers — requiring them to take time off without pay — as part of a larger effort to reduce costs that includes a hiring freeze, out-of-state travel restrictions and limits on departmental spending.

The university announced the furlough plan at the start of the fall semester. It requires both faculty and staff members to take a certain number of unpaid days off, based on their salary level. Those making between $80,000 and $100,000, for example, must take six furlough days reducing their pay by 2.3 percent.

“Everybody is upset that we’re having furloughs,” said Stephanie Gibson, vice president of the University Faculty Senate. “Nobody wants to see the university suffer in a way that’s irreparable, but people are irritated and angry that we’re having to give up pay.”

Members of the school’s executive team — including university President Kurt Schmoke, and other high-ranking officials — also took a voluntary pay cut, ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent.

Enrollment at the university has dropped by about 15 percent in the last five years. University officials largely attribute the shift to fewer college-ready students in Baltimore and a big drop in law school applications, mirroring nationwide trends.

“The biggest challenge we have is our fall enrollment targets were not hit,” said Barbara Aughenbaugh, the university’s associate vice president for administration and finance. “We didn’t get as many students as expected, and that’s what the budget was built on.”

With fewer students coming to the Midtown campus, Schmoke said he was faced with trying to close a $4.2 million budget gap.

The furloughs and executive pay cuts are expected to save the university $1.3 million. School officials anticipate the hiring freeze will save another $1.6 million, with an additional $700,000 in savings expected from reducing travel by faculty and staff, catered events and other discretionary expenses.

“I do recognize that we’ve had our challenges, as many other places that are tuition-dependent have,” Schmoke said.

The university’s enrollment decline stands in contrast with most public colleges in the state. Across the University System of Maryland, which includes the University of Baltimore, enrollment has increased consistently in recent years. Between fall 2012 and fall 2016, total enrollment across the system grew by roughly 10 percent.

During that time period, just three of the system’s 11 campuses saw enrollment declines. Coppin State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore — two of the state’s historically black institutions — also saw drops.

System officials meet with administrators of the campuses struggling with enrollment to develop strategies to support the school, said USM spokesman Mike Lurie.

“If a financial challenge, or structural deficit, persists over time, actions such as furloughs sometimes become necessary and appropriate,” Lurie said in a statement. “The leadership at both USM and UB value our faculty and staff and the critical work they do, and are deeply aware of the financial burden that furloughs place on everyone impacted.”

The University of Baltimore set its sights on enrolling 6,111 students this year, a target it missed by more than 500 students, according to this fall’s enrollment numbers. The 5,565 student population is only slightly higher than a decade ago.

Unlike other public colleges in the state, the University of Baltimore primarily serves nontraditional college students. The average age of undergraduates is 28 years old; graduate students are generally in their mid-30s.

Aughenbaugh said economic forces affect enrollment and that adult learners are more likely to go back to school during economic downturns to develop new work skills.

“The enrollment patterns are changing,” Aughenbaugh said. “When the economy improves, enrollment tends to go down for graduate students.”

The brunt of the enrollment decline comes from a steep drop at the law school. In the last five years, enrollment there has gone down by more than 30 percent — from 1,112 in 2012 to 732 this fall.

Schmoke said the university has for years been “overly dependent on the law school from a financial point of view.”

Law schools across the country face similar challenges. Enrollment for first-year law students peaked at 52,000 in fall 2010, but subsequently fell to just over 37,000 students in fall 2016, according to the American Bar Association.

“There is a variety of explanations for the decline,” said Barry Currier, managing director of the association’s legal education section, in an email. “Chief among them would be a challenging and changing job market; as well as a disconnect between the cost of earning the J.D. degree — and the debt typically incurred to finance that cost — and salary levels for many entry-level law positions.”

A number of employees are exempt from the University of Baltimore furlough program, including university police and security officers, adjunct faculty, graduate assistants and student wage employees, among others. Those earning less than $55,000 a year also are excluded. The pay reductions affect 388 of 670 employees.

Classes will not be canceled due to furloughs, according to the university’s plan.

“We wanted to make sure we are maintaining all of the academic services that effect the quality of the education for our students,” Schmoke said.

Salary cuts stemming from the required furlough days are being distributed over 19 pay periods. The process began in October and will end on the pay date of June 27, 2018.

The average salary of those in the furlough program is $95,280. Those employees will see a pay cut of roughly $2,200.

“We lessened the per pay period pain,” Aughenbaugh said.

This is not the first time the university has had to cut back in the face of declining enrollment. The university laid off 14 employees and eliminated 12 vacant positions in May 2016 as part of a slew of budget cuts that saved nearly $4 million.

“It’s really unfortunate that we’re at this position again,” Gibson said.

The university has committed to not implementing furloughs next academic year, Schmoke said.

Chris Hart, a university spokesman, said the school does not anticipate needing to adjust tuition this year.

The university is preparing to roll out its a new five-year strategic plan, with the goal of “re-imagining” the school and ensuring its services are in alignment with its mission.

Schmoke said he’s “optimistic” about the future, as the university re-prioritizes which students it’s working to attract.

“We don’t see this as a permanent state of affairs,” he said. “We know these things have cycles and we know that, based on our most recent projections, we’ll be able to stabilize enrollment.”

The plan lays out some of the challenges the school must overcome: brand confusion, intense competition for students and the perception of Baltimore as an unsafe city, among others.

One central goal of the strategic plan is ensuring the university’s long-term financial stability.

“We’re looking for new markets, we’re looking where we can expand online — and expand properly, not just for the purpose of expanding,” Aughenbaugh said. “We’re really looking to where we can grow enrollment in a strategic way.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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