University budget deficit slowly increases

McKenna Scherer, Features Reporter

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Winona State University’s chief financial officer Scott Ellinghuysen shared news of the school’s $1.6 million budget deficit for this school year two weeks ago through an email to faculty.

Ellinghuysen said the school could face an even worse budget next year, totaling up to a worst-case-scenario amount of $5 million.

If the deficit grows to that amount, it would take up 5% of the school’s $100 million budget.

Ellinghuysen explained the deficit occurred due to a combination of factors including a decline in enrollment over the last seven to eight years, but that the largest contributor was the expense of university employment.

“Our biggest expense is people,” Ellinghuysen said.

Ellinghuysen explained salary settlements, among other financial dealings the university has, are all negotiated through different unions on campus. The school then takes that dollar amount and compares it to the rest of the funding it has, whether from tuition or from the state, to see what the differential is. This year, the differential has confirmed a deficit.

The school receives state funding on a biennial basis, a 2-year cycle of money. Ellinghuysen said there is typically less money to be spent in the second year of that cycle, which contributed to the lack of funding.

In the email announcement Ellinghuysen sent out to faculty  regarding the budget situation, he stated there would be “one-time budget maneuvers” made to deal with the deficit, as well as considerations of a change in tuition.

The email regarding the university’s financial situation and details of change in tuition, campus-wide forums and exact deficit numbers was not sent to students.

The university has different emailing lists, including an all-university and an all-employment list.

“I’m not sure which one it was sent to,” Ellinghuysen said. “It was probably sent to the all-employees list.”

Ellinghuysen went on to say there was no reason the email did not get sent to students and that it was a mistake.

The mistake has not been corrected and further information from the school regarding the deficit has yet to be emailed to students.

Student Senate, the recognized voice for all students at Winona State, is heavily involved in budget processes at the school and provides input on tuition rates among numerous other things.

However, Student Senate was not aware of the email announcement being sent out.

“It is difficult to give my opinion without having seen the email,” Ben Ellgen, Student Senate president, said. “We have been in ongoing conversations about the status of the budget over the last three months.”

Ellgen also said Student Senate voted against the increase in tuition last year, although that increase still occurred.

“I cannot speak for the Senate without a motion of support or opposition, but I would highly expect that representatives will continue to advocate for affordability and keeping tuition as low as possible,” Ellgen said.

Ellinghuysen said campus wide budget forums will be set up to share information and ask questions. It is unclear what dates the forums will be set on but should occur sometime this fall.

Ellgen said Student Senate will be participating in the forums, once announced and will continue to ensure that things like student programs and work study are kept in place.

Ellinghuysen said he will share further information on the budget deficit as it becomes known. It is unclear if that information will be shared with students or not.

During last year’s legislative session, a decision to increase this year’s tuition by 3% was made. Ellinghuysen said while the Minn. State board has not given the school guidance regarding a rise in tuition for next year, there is a chance of another 3% raise.

“Zero [percent] would be great for students, but it wouldn’t help our budget, so that’s the push-and-pull there,” Ellinghuysen said.   

These increases in tuition are something that could deeply impact current and future students.

Winona State boasts a reputation of affordability: “it’s not that bad. And we’ll do everything in our power to make it even more affordable,” the school states on its website. Yet, the budget situation and potential tuition increase could rival that.

The “one-time budget maneuvers” mentioned could include dipping into extra unspent money in equipment or other university accounts, according to Ellinghuysen. Potential faculty layoffs were not mentioned as one of the maneuvers the school would utilize to offset the deficit.

“I think it’s premature to say what would happen, those conversations haven’t really happened yet,” Ellinghuysen said. “We’re setting the parameters and figuring out what the deficit might look like.”

The university’s financial struggle could have a rippling impact as it is a major economic source for the city of Winona.

Winona State has nearly 500 faculty members, 8,000 students and generates $447.9 million in economic impact, as found on the university website through a 2018 study.

Ellinghuysen said that first-year enrollment has remained steady, but an increase in spring enrollment could help the situation.

Ellinghuysen is hopeful that state legislature will approve additional funding to help the budget deficit.