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Headcounts at UND, other institutions show effects of budget cuts on job numbers

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As budgets have contracted across the North Dakota University System, so too have the numbers of people employed at state institutions of higher education.

Retiring UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the university takes an employment snapshot as of Nov. 1 each fiscal year. The university has shed about 600 workers since fiscal year 2014, when the university had a headcount of 6,321 employees. This November, at the start of fiscal year 2018, the university had a count of 5,713 employees.

The drop comes after what Johnson described as a period of "relative stability" between 2014 and 2016.

"But then, I think you start to see the effects of the budget cuts and that process we went through," Johnson said. "Then it definitely falls off."

Falling state revenue ahead of the most recent legislative session led to a systemwide cut of about $212 million for the 2017-19 biennium — a 25 percent drop in appropriated dollars from an adjusted total of general fund spending through the previous two-year budget period.

UND's portion of that is pegged at about $32 million, a cut that led to an across-campus budget contraction of 12 percent. The UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, which receives a separate appropriation from the wider university, trimmed its budget by 10 percent, reducing by about $4.9 million.

In addition to its headcount, UND also provided a breakdown of its full-time equivalents, a statistic that shows another layer in the wider employment picture. That count shows less of a decline than the headcount, but still shows a loss of more than 350 jobs over four years. In 2014, the university recorded FTEs of almost 4,018. At the start of fiscal year 2018, the FTE count hit 3,664.

Broader cuts

The decline at UND reflects a wider trend seen across the state university system, though there were some differences in the how NDUS reported its employment statistics.

In fiscal year 2016, the system recorded FTEs of slightly more than 8,012 workers across all of its institutions, including the North Dakota State University Agricultural Extension offices.

NDUS Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan said the system had increased its FTE count by more than 250 between 2012 and 2016. But after that, the trend quickly reversed.

Annual financial data reported by the state Office of Management and Budget reflect totals for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 as of June 30.

During 2017, NDUS had dropped the equivalent of almost 481 full-time employees across the system, ending in an FTE of about 7,531.

"The majority of those, I believe, are more in full-time, benefited positions, because we needed to save so much on the cost side," Dolan said. "That's a dramatic reduction that our institutions are faced with. Finding ways to maintain quality and keep doing what we're supposed to be doing, which is educating students — that's a big challenge that they're trying to face right now."

Dolan said UND had the biggest decrease in terms of looking at raw numbers. Fellow research institution North Dakota State University cut the second-largest number of employees.

Back in Grand Forks, UND human resources director Pat Hanson said the cuts to personnel have led to a focus on doing more with less.

"There's been focus on doing things more efficiently, on streamlining processes and seeing what we can do better," Hanson said.

As part of that, Johnson said faculty and staff have seen duties reassigned as departments have prioritized and regrouped. Some of the shift has been laid out in advance by the school's overarching strategic plan, a five-year document released in May that sketches goals for university progress in a number of areas. Johnson said the plan will inform future staffing.

"It'll help us continue to define what we have for personnel, both in terms of numbers and in terms of jobs," he said, stating as an example that the school's evolving interest in unmanned aerial systems might lead to a subsequent increase in staffing. "I think we'll see university that builds toward the results we want to see on that plan."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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