October Board of Trustees recap

Editor’s Note: After each Board of Trustees meeting, Western Today provides a recap of decisions and discussion.  

Trustees Approve Western’s 2020-21 Operating Budget 

Western’s Board of Trustees approved the University’s 2020-2021 operating budget of $193,173,936 on Friday.  

In June, the trustees approved a preliminary 2020-21 operating budget, which was a continuation of the 2019-20 budget, due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, and to give budget planners time to learn more about the status of state funding and Western’s fall enrollment.  

University budget planners also wanted to have a better understanding of the effects on Western’s auxiliaries and self-sustaining areas, such as housing and dining and the Wade King Student Recreation Center, which run as business units that must generate revenue to cover their costs. 

Earlier this year, state agencies were directed to plan for a 15 percent budget reduction after a state economic forecast projected a $9 billion state budget shortfall through 2023. An updated forecast during the summer projected a smaller $4.2 billion budget deficit due to increased state tax revenues. The next state revenue forecast is due out on Nov. 18. The Legislature returns to regular session in January when they will consider ways to address the budget shortfall. Western is planning for a range of potential state budget cuts from no cuts to a 7.5 percent reduction in state funding to Western during 2020-21. Western budget planners also estimated a drop in fall tuition revenue of between 7 and 10 percent.   

Faye Gallant, Western executive director of Budget and Financial Planning, also said strategic use of Western’s institutional reserves and federal stimulus funding will help cushion some of the budget pressures facing the University during 2020-21. 

The current budget includes $5.3 million, or a 3 percent reduction to divisional and President’s Office budgets. That reduction is being met by continuing the freeze on University hiring, purchasing and travel, with an exception process for those positions and purchases critical to operations and advancing Western’s strategic plan. 

However, circumstances could change during the fiscal year, when additional University budget changes may be necessary - either softening or hardening the hiring, purchasing, and travel freezes used to meet divisional reduction targets should revenues increase or decrease substantially from the current projections. 

The budget includes the following one-time adjustments: 

  • An estimated $3 million for COVID-19 response, based on tracking and projections through Western’s Incident Command System (ICS). 

  • An additional $225,000 for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion funding for an African-American student retention counselor, anti-racism and anti-Black training for faculty and staff, and support for wellness for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), and support for Ethnic Studies curriculum development and delivery. 

  • $2 million for Academic Affairs bridge funding. 

       Other budget items include $100,000 toward increased stipends for graduate student teaching assistants (TAs); and $500,000 to address information technology (IT) operating needs. 

Western’s collective bargaining agreement with classified staff includes a 3 percent compensation increase for the 2020-21 fiscal year, as approved by the Legislature. Final 2020-21 determinations on faculty and professional staff increases will follow the reopening of the faculty contract in October. 

For more information on the operating budget, see: https://trustees.wwu.edu/files/12%20Approval%20of%202020-2021%20Annual%20State%20Operating%20Budget.pdf 

Fall Enrollment 

Shelli Soto, Western’s associate vice president for Enrollment Management, said that enrollment planners had feared a fall enrollment drop of over 10 percent, following a trend experienced by many universities nationwide after onset of the pandemic.  
However, total fall enrollment, at 15,194, reflects a drop of 5.9 percent from total enrollment in fall 2019. In addition, WWU recorded a 10.2 percent increase in graduate enrollment, Soto said. 

Soto said that Western’s fall 2020 student body includes 28.1 percent students of color, a record high for the university. As a percentage of total enrollment, Black, Latino, Asian, and two or more races each have slightly higher representation in the student body this fall than they did in fall 2019.  Native Americans are represented in the student body this fall at about the same percentage as last year, and white students fell slightly as a percentage of the total student body. 

Enrollment of first-year and new transfer students was affected by the pandemic, with lower than expected enrollment in those two categories. Many students trying to make difficult choices about how they wanted to begin their college experience opted to defer their admission to a future term.  Among Western’s would-be first-year students, 278 have been granted deferrals to a future term, as compared to 103 in fall 2019.  Transfer students requested deferrals at a higher rate as well: 75 this year as opposed to 32 in fall of 2019. 

Trustee Karen Lee asked what is being done with regard to recruitment of Black students, and Soto noted plans to hire an African-American student retention counselor as well as outreach to community-based organizations and other efforts.  

Soto also expressed thanks to Donna Gibbs, vice president of University Relations and Marketing, for highly effective marketing outreach that mitigated an expected steep drop in out-of-state students for fall quarter. 

Gibbs described for the trustees a more integrated approach using digital marketing strategies to reach both resident and non-resident students in targeted geographies in Colorado, California, Texas and other parts of the western U.S. supported by dedicated funding from institutional and WWU Foundation sources. She said that this approach mitigated losses of non-resident enrollments and, combined with ongoing recruitment strategies, are an important start to building awareness among high school sophomores and juniors that will help build enrollment pipelines for future years. Gibbs also discussed Western marketing efforts focused on reduced tuition on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.  While Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed all other new higher education funding requests due to the economic fallout from the pandemic, Western nonetheless received new annual funding to reduce tuition rates for self-supported degree programs and to bring them in line with state-funded programs on the main campus.  This will result in a near 60 percent reduction in the annual cost of tuition for most students at Western on the Peninsulas. 

Gibbs said upcoming marketing campaigns will include focused efforts on recruitment of graduate students. 

For more information, see: https://trustees.wwu.edu/files/14a%20Enrollment%20Management%20Summary%20-%20October.pdf 

In other business, the trustees:

  • Heard a report from Western President Sabah Randhawa on the start of fall quarter. He described Western’s mostly remote fall classes, with about 10 percent for in-person experiential classes. He also said that Western’s new COVID-19 dashboard, which updates Western testing of students for the virus, as “a good tool for transparency.”  Several key goals Randhawa outlined included: navigating the pandemic in a healthy way; working to advance Western’s objectives during the next Legislative session; continuing to work on issues of equity and inclusion, particularly the demands presented by the Black Student Organizations; continuing to enhance graduate education and completing the fundraising campaign for the new electrical and computer science building. 

  • Gibbs briefed trustees on Western’s collaboration with the Port of Bellingham at the waterfront. She described a public-private partnership at the Port that proposed a mix of private sector industries and developers, public agencies and a multi-institutional higher education presence. She said a Port/WWU P3 team was established in January to determine development commitments that each entity was willing to make to catalyze the project, and issue RFPs to private development partners. However, with the economic uncertainties caused by the pandemic they are slowing progress a bit. 

  • Faculty Senate President Jeff Young said that the Faculty Senate is working to ensure that all faculty have a voice in governance, including those at institutes and off-campus. They also will be reviewing demands from Black students (Scroll down to see letter from AS President Abdul Malik Ford: https://trustees.wwu.edu/files/07%20Associated%20Students%20Report_0.pdf) to see where they can make concrete change. Young said that many faculty members over the summer worked on planning for their pivot to mostly remote fall classes. 

  • Approved awarding a contract for $2,219,943 to BNBuilders of Seattle for architectural casework, landscaping, irrigation and site hardscape for the new Interdisciplinary Science Building. For more information, see: https://trustees.wwu.edu/files/13%20Public%20Works%20Project.pdf

The next regular meeting of the Board of trustees will be Dec. 10 and 11. Meeting documents are available at the Board of Trustees website at https://trustees.wwu.edu/meeting-materials