CMU's enrollment data will be released sometime in January 2018
Breaking with its usual practice, Central Michigan University will release its fall enrollment data sometime this month.
Accurate enrollment data can help administrators help keep the university’s budget balanced. Lower than expected enrollment to online and satellite courses contributed to a $10 million budget shortfall announced by CMU in October 2016. That number ballooned to $14 million administrators announced at the February board meeting. A two-year, $20 million deficit was discussed in March and resulted in budget reductions and job cuts before the beginning of the 2017-18 fiscal year on July 1.
In June, the Board of Trustees approved a change in CMU’s reporting policy to extend the release of enrollment reports after the Fall semester, as opposed to the beginning. Sherry Knight, associate vice president for University Communications, said one of the reasons for the move away from reporting that number in the fall is because enrollment for Global Campus continues through December.
Student tuition dollars and enrollment play a massive part in structuring this year's $484 million operating budget. From the 2016-17 academic year, tuition rates increased 2.96 percent, with price per credit hour increasing from $405 to $417. On July 1 the fiscal year began with a $7.4 million smaller budget than the previous year.
Last year, CMU made cuts to colleges and services centers and used $14 million worth of one-time funds to balance the budget. Joe Garrison, director of Financial Planning and Budgets, told Central Michigan Life in October that those dollars are distributed for use in colleges and service centers. Examples of a service center include Enrollment and Student Services or Facilities Management.
Once the effort to address the deficit was underway those dollars were pulled back into the general fund to help make up the shortfall.
“We ended the year at a break-even-type level because adjusts were made throughout the year,” Garrison said.
Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services Barrie Wilkes said 13 staff members were laid off, although two were retirements in public broadcasting.
“We have a staff of about 2,700 people,” Wilkes said in October. “Any layoff is certainly something you want to avoid. It was a very small percentage of campus employees.”
The 2017-18 fiscal year started July 1, so that deficit had diminished. But university officials are looking for better accuracy in their enrollment numbers to make sure the budget remains in-tact.
The official Fall 2016 headcount for on-campus students at CMU was 19,060 — a 2.5 percent decrease from Fall 2015. CMU has decreased in total on-campus enrollment every year since 2014. When asked if CMU’s enrollment would increase or decrease from years prior, Knight did not want to speculate.
In Fall 2016, there were a total of 8,451 students enrolled in Global Campus. At the end of the Spring 2017 semester, Global Campus had a grand total of 8,621 students. There were also 3,486 students that were on-campus concurrent, in which students are concurrently enrolled in one or more on-campus courses.
The University of Michigan and Michigan State University have released Fall 2017 enrollment numbers. U-M has a grand total of 46,002 students, while MSU had 50,109.
Three local Mid-American Conference schools — Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Toledo have already released their enrollment data for Fall 2017, with each having decreases in overall enrollment.
CMU officials looked at other schools and discovered the most common approach for accurate enrollment was to wait until the end of the semester. Joe Garrison, director of Financial Planning and Budgets, said in October that Global Campus students were still registering for classes for different calendars.
“At the end of the semester, we should be able to have accurate information for the semester,” Garrison said.
Looking at the budget
CMU uses a responsibility center management (RCM) budget model, where dollars are divvied up to colleges and service centers to use, and the budget is divided into the general fund and non-general fund.
Administrators expect the budget will fluctuate once Fall 2017 enrollment numbers are finalized. Administrators will align revenue with expenses to try keep the budget in balance.
While last year's deficit was anticipated to be 4 percent of the overall operating budget, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Administration Ray Christie said it was smaller than that. Wilkes said 2016-17 revenue exceeded expenses last year by more than $50 million.
“Every year, we’re adjusting revenues and expenses,” Wilkes said. “Last year, enrollment was lower than anticipated. We adjusted our expenses and we had a positive year.”
Plante Moran, CMU’s external audit firm, gave the university a clean audit — meaning the university ended the year in a good financial position. In fact, CMU increased financial aid to students by 50 percent during the past four years, Wilkes said. In all, Garrison said CMU invests about $17 million into scholarships.
“With everything else that we were going through and adjusting our expenses to match our revenue, there was a dedicated emphasis put on scholarships,” Garrison said.
CMU’s operating budget states tuition primarily funds academic centers. Academic centers provide advisors who help students with degree progress, signing major and minors and offer assistance for students to set academic goals and explore career opportunities. The centers are located across campus, with one for each academic college.
Ray Christie, senior vice provost for academic administration, said CMU’s operating budget is similar to an “operating plan” and the university will spend dollars to meet the needs of students.
“From the academic side, we focus on meeting the needs of the students,” Christie said. “The colleges work hard, and I work closely with them, and they’re dedicated to meeting students’ needs.”
Administrators often promote the fact that CMU has had the lowest cumulative tuition increase over the last eight years of any Michigan university. Wilkes said state appropriations are about $85 million — less than 18 percent of CMU’s budget. In his 2017 financial report, Wilkes said that figure covers just 66 days of operation.
The university has also sought new ways to diversify its revenue. One alternative has been an increased focus on fundraising. Wilkes said he has spoken to Vice President for Advancement Bob Martin and President George Ross about ways to put as much money as they can into the university's $160 million endowment, which could mean additional scholarship dollars.
The idea behind endowments is to collect financial gifts to include in interest-earning funds, and spend the annual interest earned on those gifts. The financial gifts remain intact and will continue to earn interest to serve students years from now. Last year, CMU spent about $5.8 million earned through its endowment.
At his State of the University address in September, Ross announced CMU had received more million dollar gifts in the past year than in history. Wilkes said that some gifts go toward the endowment or toward capital projects, such as the recent renovations to Grawn Hall.
With new enrollment numbers not yet released, Wilkes could not guarantee there wouldn’t be a shortfall this year.
“If there’s a shortfall in enrollment this year, we’ll do the same things we’ve always done,” he said. “We have a lot of turnovers and vacant positions. We have reserves. Because we have a decentralized budget – how each area will handle it will be up to them.”
Wilkes guaranteed CMU will have a positive year-end.
“If we have a (student credit hour) shortfall, we will manage through that,” he said.
Community Editor Emma Dale contributed to this article.