Northwestern State University President Dr. Marcus Jones addressed the upcoming academic year’s highlights and challenges during the university’s Faculty Institute and faculty/staff lunch on Monday. The annual event provides an opportunity for the president to deliver a State of the University address directly to faculty and staff. While Jones’ remarks outlined positive developments at the university, he also acknowledged the challenges the university is facing and how they will be addressed.
“To remain competitive in the landscape of higher education, we continue to place a high value on career readiness, learner goals, and the individual pursuits of our students,” Jones said. “Providing an education of enduring value and creating gainful employment opportunities for our students in Louisiana and beyond is of utmost importance.”
Jones said NSU’s three priorities regarding students are to stay career-focused on academics, provide critical skills that address workforce needs, and provide an enriching student experience. He shared results from a recent economic impact study, which reported that the university contributes $520 million to the regional economy and supports the creation of 7,200 jobs in the region or one out of every 53 jobs in northwestern and central Louisiana.
“Outside of the classroom, NSU is proud to be a driving force for economic growth, job creation, and development in our region. These benefits are real and measurable,” Jones said.
Earlier this year, the Louisiana legislature approved a 2 percent pay raise for faculty at public universities in the state, sourced from the governor’s budget. NSU is also slated to receive $65.1 million in capital outlay funding for several infrastructure projects. Funding for faculty raises and capital outlay projects are not part of the university’s operating budget.
Over the past year, the NSU Foundation secured $6.6 million in contributions, a 15 percent increase in giving to the university, and secured $5 million in increased private grant funding, including contributions from industry partners. The Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development received a combined $11 million in grants to support initiatives that include the child welfare training academy, the child and family network, and career exploration in the high demand fields of psychology, addiction studies, social work, nursing, and allied health.
However, due to declining enrollment, the university is facing revenue shortfalls, prompting strategic preparations to address this issue.
“Educational institutions throughout Louisiana and the nation have been expecting a decrease in the number of high school graduates and traditional college-age students,” Jones said. “This trend has been aggravated by the lasting effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Current job market demands have created attractive short-term opportunities for college-age individuals to enter the workforce instead of pursuing higher education.”
“It’s crucial to acknowledge the trials that lie ahead,” Jones said. “Some key aspects of our near-term operations, such as fiscal year budgeting and Fall 2023 enrollment data, are yet to be finalized. However, it is evident that we will be confronting a significant operating deficit.”
To address the shortfall, Jones said the university will reevaluate personnel and operating budgets, place a pause on new hires for vacant positions, and eliminate positions through attrition (retirements) while nurturing the existing talent pool.
The university will utilize 50 percent of its reserve funds to soften the financial blow, but future personnel reductions may be necessary, he added. Addressing the revenue shortfall and budget gap will follow six guiding principles.
“As a campus community, we will remain committed to our fundamental mission as a public regional university in northwest Louisiana, while dedicating our efforts to achieving financial stability and organizational resilience; prioritize the needs of our students and their educational experience; develop and invest in strategies that manage costs and result in savings and revenue growth; utilize data-driven strategies and continuously monitor their efficacy, leverage the creative thinking and recommendations of NSU stakeholders across campus, community, and alumni base; and prioritize a decision-making approach that is inclusive, equitable and transparent to the campus community.”
Jones said that while robust recruiting efforts and improved marketing initiatives are expected to impact future enrollment, positive interaction and the daily efforts of faculty and staff to serve students and provide assistance are crucial to student retention.
“I take great pride in the work we have accomplished and have full confidence in our ability to sustain our progress despite the obstacles we encounter,” Jones said. “I thank you in advance for joining hands with us in this vital endeavor. Together, we can make a significant impact and steer our institution towards an even brighter future.”
Fall classes at Northwestern State will begin Aug. 14. Registration via NSUConnect is available through Aug. 13. Late registration will continue through Aug. 22. Data on enrollment should be available by Aug. 29. Registration information is available at http://www.nsula.edu/registrar.