Flint, MI–COVID-19 is impacting universities beyond moving classes online and limiting activity on campus. The University of Michigan-Flint, is laying off 41% of lecturers and raising tuition by 3.9%.
In a statement by U-M spokesperson Jennifer Hogan, U-M Flint “is preparing for a fiscal year 2020/2021 shortfall of at least $8.4 million, requiring significant budget cuts.”
These budget cuts include salary reductions, voluntary furlough by 16% of staff, cancellations of contracts and projects, and a freeze on spending and hiring.
Of the 41% affected by layoffs, 7% were non-reappointments of lecturers who are normally asked to fill in for a semester or two.
13% were full layoffs and 21% were partial layoffs, meaning the lecturer is still employed by the university but the number of courses they teach has been reduced. Some lecturers lost health benefits as a result of class reduction.
“The steady enrollment decline of the last several years without decline in instructional staff has put U-M Flint in a very difficult financial situation,” Hogan said.
In Fall of 2015, there were 8,470 graduates and undergraduates enrolled at U-M Flint. By 2019, that number had decreased to 7,297.
Student tuition and fees make up close to 80% of the university’s total revenue, so a decline in enrollment has a big effect on revenue.
As a result, the University of Michigan raised tuition by 1.9% in Ann Arbor and Dearborn, and 3.9% in Flint.
The school will cover the increased tuition for the majority of students at the Ann Arbor campus. Rather than directly covering the increased tuition, the Flint and Dearborn campuses will cut certain fees, such as fees for online classes, which are $46 per credit.
According to an article about the budget posted by U-M Flint, “a student taking 15 credit hours online would have a total savings of $690 in fees, more than offsetting the $243-per-term increase.”
Chancellor Deba Dutta stated in a message to the Flint campus community that “for Fall 2020, we are moving toward approximately 75% of courses being fully online.”
Students not taking all online classes wouldn’t see the same kinds of savings.
The Ann Arbor campus also has the GoBlue guarantee, which offers free tuition if your family makes under $65,000. Flint and Dearborn don’t have this program despite their students being more socioeconomically diverse.
The One University Coalition, a group advocating for equality for the three campuses, believes that cuts to the U-M Flint budget aren’t necessary to mitigate the pandemic’s financial impacts and are representative of unequal treatment.
Associate Professor of Political Science Jason Kosnoski, a One U member, said there is a growing sense of apprehension about cuts to the budget and frustration because, “they don’t need to happen.”
The U-M Flint College of Arts and Sciences was asked to take a 10% cut to their budget.
“That 10% is $1.9 million. That’s nothing,” Kosnoski said. “Ann Arbor could find that in the cushions of their couch.”
Howard Bunsis, an Accounting Professor at Eastern Michigan University, conducted an independent financial analysis of U-M in the middle of the pandemic.
He found the Ann Arbor campus had close to a $12 billion endowment, much of which is unrestricted. Additionally, he estimated the campus had $3-6 million dollars in unspecified, “rainy day” funds.
“We have this pot of money that could be used if they wanted it to be used,” Kosnoski said.
The report identifies half of the CARES Act Support for the three campuses, totaling $18,416,668, as possible mitigation not being considered by the U-M administration.
It also proposes using reserves, reducing upper-level management spending, and borrowing money as U-M has a medium level of debt with low rates.
One U held a rally on June 18 to protest an alleged lack of support from U-M Regent Michael J. Behm for the Flint campus, and encouraged regents to reject a budget that didn’t have at least $20 million in it for Flint and Dearborn. Their efforts were successful.
The approved budget allocates $20 million for Flint and Dearborn student recruitment, retention and graduation.
“Of course now the fight is to make sure this money goes to students and to retain faculty, not on billboards on rt. 23 which it seems is what Dutta wants to do with it,” Kosnoski said in an email.