MU eliminates 185 jobs. The blame? Enrollment drop and state funding cuts

The University of Missouri is investigating affluent families who may have bent the rules to get need-based financial aid.
The University of Missouri is investigating affluent families who may have bent the rules to get need-based financial aid. University of Missouri

In an effort to manage a $49 million budget shortfall, the University of Missouri will eliminate 185 positions and lay off 30 staff members.

In addition, the university will reduce travel, eliminate some courses with low enrollment, cut down on sponsorships of some events and convert several printed products into online-only publications, said MU Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright and Vice Chancellor for Finance Rhonda Gibler in an announcement made public Thursday.

"We are focused on student success, strengthening our research productivity and engaging with Missourians to help find solutions to grand challenges," Cartwright said. And despite the announced cuts, he said, “the future is very bright for Mizzou.”

The university has wrestled with financial challenges for more than a year, blaming a reduction in state funding and a decline in enrollment since the racially charged campus protests in 2015. The following year, incoming freshman enrollment dropped below 5,000 students for the first time since 2007. And last year's freshmen enrollment of 4,134 students was the lowest in more than a decade.

While MU is expecting this fall's freshman class to grow more than 14 percent, "We are still graduating more people than we are enrolling," said Christian Basi, university spokesman. "We have one more large class (incoming seniors) that will graduate in May 2019. At that point, we will begin to see a leveling or slight increase in our overall enrollment."

The cuts come out of the university's general revenues budget of about $500 million, which includes money from state allocation, tuition and research grants. The university's total budget, including MU Health Care, is about $2.2 billion.

The cuts were not evenly spread across campus units. Some slashed as much as 12 percent.

State cuts into higher education funding have been felt across all four University of Missouri System campuses. Last June, $101 million and 474 jobs were eliminated, with more than 300 alone at MU in Columbia.

In a little more than a year Mizzou has cut about 485 positions, although Cartwright said some other positions may have been added.

He said elimination of the last 185 jobs saves the university $11 million. All 30 of those laid off are members of the university staff, not faculty.

“You cannot cut your way to excellence,” Cartwright said. “While we will be scaling back certain activities, we continue to move forward with major investments."

Specifically, he noted the MU Translational Precision Medicine Complex — a public-private partnership to work on disease treatment and prevention.

In addition, the university is putting "more than $100 million toward scholarships and graduate student support — an increase of more than $8 million," Cartwright said.

Starting this fall the university will cover full tuition and fees for admitted students who received federal Pell Grants. And the winners of ROTC scholarships will get free housing and food their freshman year.

Last month the University of Missouri Board of Curators approved a 2.1 percent tuition hike, but university leaders decided to charge only 1 percent more, as part of a deal with legislators who agreed to spare another $70 million in cuts.

Lawmakers passed a state budget bill calling for core funding to remain at last year's $395.8 million level.