FARGO — A North Dakota State University leader who suspects enrollment will continue to drop in the coming years has asked the school’s academic departments to find ways to operate with 90% of their budget.

The proposals showing how departments can cut 10% in operating costs are due Thursday, Oct. 31, interim Provost Ken Grafton said. The move is in response to a slide in enrollment that likely will cause an expected $5.5 million drop in revenue, he said.

“I also indicated that it does not mean that anything would be accepted,” Grafton said. “It was to begin the process of where do we go, how do we reinvent ourselves to be successful.”

NDSU counted 13,173 students for this school year’s official enrollment, more than 600 fewer than last year. This is the fifth straight year the university’s student body has declined, and this year marks the lowest count since 2008.

Grafton attributed the loss to a competitive national market and higher graduation rates at NDSU. He said NDSU has become more efficient at getting students their degrees, out of college and into the workforce, but that causes short-term and long-term problems for the budget.

“There’s a very good probability that we’re going to be down next year” and the following year for enrollment, he said.

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Grafton has asked staff to “think outside the box” to make NDSU more efficient.

“What I’m trying to do is work with the deans and faculty to identify ways we can reposition ourselves as an institution to address what is needed for the state, for the community, for the nation, for the world as a land grant institution,” Grafton said. “This is a changing environment, and we have to look forward."

Kenneth Grafton
Kenneth Grafton

'Not at all interested' in layoffs

When enrollment dropped by 562 students from the fall of 2017 to last year, NDSU handled the $6.1 million revenue cut by offering buyouts and implementing a hiring slowdown, Grafton said. Departments were asked to prioritize which positions were needed, combine duties and not fill openings deemed unnecessary.

“It addressed a large portion of the $6.1 million problem that we had,” he said.

Grafton also asked academic departments for a 1% reduction in their budgets, as well as a 3% cut for nonacademic units under his supervision, in June.

The school accepted early retirement incentive agreements for 30 employees in May, less than half of the 69 that applied. Another round of buyouts was accepted in 2017 for 55 workers.

NDSU is gathering input as leaders assess its strategic plan. Grafton wants a healthy graduate student population as well as moves to increase undergraduate enrollment.

Grafton also suggested finding efficiencies through realignment, adding and expanding online programs, improving international student enrollment, increasing collaboration and launching different degrees to attract students and increase revenue.

A hiring slowdown will continue, and the school announced this month it will accept voluntary separations, he said. A hiring freeze, salary cuts and stopping pay raises are not on the table, Grafton said. He added that he's “not at all interested” in layoffs.

“I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do in this kind of a situation,” he said of layoffs.