Low enrollment causes financial concerns


Butler University’s enrollment is lower than projected despite the increasing number of first year students, which causes financial stress and reduced spending.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Bruce Arick said Butler had 976 incoming first year students last year. This year, Butler expected about 50 more incoming students.

According to Butler’s website, the total cost of attending Butler during the 2015-16 school year is more than $49,000.

Butler projected receiving about $54 million in tuition, but due to lower enrollment numbers, they are short roughly $4 million.

Vice President for Enrollment Management Lori Greene said the budget, based on projected enrollment, was established in September 2014. Greene said that while many institutions are seeing a decline in enrollment, Butler saw an increase.

“Fortunately, in a time when many institutions are seeing enrollment declines,” Greene said, “We saw an increase in new students moving from 971 in 2014 to approximately 1,035 to date.”

The administration looks at the number of overall students paying tuition to comprise the budget for the year. Arick said it is always difficult to accurately predict the number of incoming first years because they may make deposits at multiple universities before deciding which one they will attend. He said there are indications such as registering and organizing housing that implies a student is coming. Until the student shows up on campus for class, the university cannot be sure.

Butler administration’s aim is to increase enrollment by increasing communication with prospective students and their families, rebranding and increasing recruitment in large markets like Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Arick said the goal is to increase first year student enrollment to 1,100, however enrollment has been steady at about 1,000 students.

“Our goals have been a moderate growth trend, and we’d like to see enrollment grow moderately. We’ve had some volatility on that,” Arick said.

Butler administration predicts enrollment numbers by looking at factors like past trends, the amount of applications received, where recruiting is strongest and higher demographics like the number of graduating seniors.

Arick said he thinks Butler will reach its goal of 1,100 students in a few years and pointed out that it may take time for Butler’s enrollment initiatives to yield results.

“It happens periodically,” Arick said. “When you think about the whole recruiting process, of enrollments, you have ebbs and flows.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson has seen enrollment continue to climb during his time at Butler.

“After being around here at the university for a number of years now, I can remember just a couple of years ago when, guess what?” Johnson said. “The goal was 950. Now we’re bringing in classes of 1,000 plus. I think enrollment is doing well in that sense where it’s increased, it just hasn’t increased to the point we have set for our goal.”

“The goal that we established was fairly aggressive and sometimes when you set aggressive goals they’re difficult to reach,” he said. “We did not reach it in this case.”

Even though the number of first year students increased, Butler will be about 75 students short of its goal. This means that the tuition those students would have paid will make a hole in the budget.

“Overall, if you think about it in percentages, we’re looking for about a 2 to 2.5 percent shift in our operating expenses, which isn’t the end of the world,” Arick said.

To address the deficit, the administration is making price cuts in each college and in administrative offices.

The administration let the deans of the colleges and the division heads decide what to cut from their budgets. Arick said they took a close look at their operating budgets to find opportunities to cut costs without changing the service students receive.

Arick said some of the cost saving proposals included colleges delaying filling open positions, reducing travel budgets for faculty and staff and reducing some capital funding they felt comfortable with.

After the deans and department heads drew up cost-saving plans, the plans were taken to Butler’s executive team for review. The executive team asked questions and explored potential problems. They also considered ripple effects of the proposed cuts.

“I think the process went well,” Arick said. “I think the division came forward with very reasonable and doable plans that will accomplish the cost reductions we want to see, without jeopardizing the quality of delivering the education and quality of services that we do.”

After the board reviewed each measure, they created an overall plan to adjust costs to this year’s projected enrollment numbers.

The cuts were specific to each college and so far there are no cuts across the board.

“It was disproportionate. We reduced operating budgets significantly less in the academic areas than we did in the administrative areas,” Arick said.

“They reduced those budgets more because we thought it was important to maintain the budgets in the colleges and keep them disproportionately higher.”

Liberal Arts and Sciences

Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Jay Howard said enrollment has increased in the College of Liberal Arts.

“LAS was down last year, just like five of the other six colleges were down in terms of first year students last year,” he said. “But we’ve rebounded very nicely this year and I think the college is currently in a strong position.”

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is doing its part to reduce operating expenses and conserve financial resources. It has made cuts and reductions totaling nearly 180 thousand dollars. Howard said that he told each department and program the amount their budget would be reduced by and let the department chairs and program directors decide what to cut to meet the budget.

“The goal, in all of this, is to maintain high quality academic programs and experiences,” Howard said. “It’s not easy. Our budgets are pretty lean to begin with. It’s not like there’s a huge amount of fat in these budgets where you can say, ‘Oh, we can save 10 percent by lopping off something.’ We’re already a pretty tight ship.”

College of Business

While Butler as a whole may be low in enrollment numbers, the College of Business underestimated their amount of first year students. They were expecting an incoming class of 220 first year students but ended up with around 260 first year students.

The College of Business is saving around $40,000 by cutting costs in areas like printing and travel expenses. College of Business Dean Stephen Standifird said that the challenge is finding places to save money.

“If we have an open position, a faculty member who retires or something like that, because of the growth trajectory of the college, we cannot afford not to fill it immediately,” Standifird said. “That is partly what has made it so difficult for us to come up with a larger number of cuts because the one area where we would have some flexibility is to not fill a position. We don’t have that luxury right now.”

College of Education

College of Education Associate Dean Angela Lupton said that enrollment in the College of Education has been fairly stable for the past five years, but the college is also taking cost saving measures to address the deficit.

Lupton said the College of Education is taking measures saving money on printing costs and spending less on food for events. She said the college is not far enough into cost-saving measures to know exactly how they will affect the college, but she does not expect the measures to alter classes or the overall function of the college.

“Our bottom line is always making sure that our students are well served,” she said. “Are there areas that we need to continue to grow and put money into in order to do our work even better? Absolutely, but I think that’s almost true at any time. I think it’s important to remember that Butler is not operating in the red.”

College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Dean Mary Graham said that even though enrollment in the pharmacy program is decreasing, growth in the pre-professional program has balanced the college in terms of numbers of students.

“At the professional phase, we’re just about where we want to be,” Graham said. “We’re still able to pretty much fill our classes.”

Graham said the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has cut about one and a half percent of its operating budget. She said even though the college is trying to cut back on food for events and has delayed hiring for some positions, finances in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences are in a good position because expenses for this year have been lower than projected.”

Jordan College of the Arts

Jordan College of the Arts Dean Ronald Caltabiano said lower than expected enrollment has not affected his college dramatically.

“Our enrollment in some areas is very steady and right on,” Caltabiano said. “In music enrollment is up slightly. In arts administration our enrollment is the same. In art, it is about the same. Our numbers this year are lower in theater and in dance, and we think that’s just a blip and that we’ll be back on track. But we’re not cutting any classes”

One way the college is saving money is by not producing the annual holiday program “Rejoice”.

Caltabiano said the college has cut “tens of thousands” of dollars.

“There’s a chance to have a cost-saving measure and examine how to do it just as well as we want to,” Caltabiano said. “I can’t say that I love cutting anything. No one does. But I think we’re doing it in a way that is smart and will ultimately bring us to a better place than we were before.”

College of Communication

College of Communication Dean Gary Edgerton said the college has seen growth in recent years. The college had around 310 students three years ago, and now has nearly twice that many.

Edgerton said his goal is for the school and departments in the college to stay healthy and continue to grow. He said cutbacks in the College of Communication were done on a small scale.

“What we wanted to make sure about was that our students’ services and the kinds of things we offered our individual majors and students wouldn’t be cut back at all, and there has been some modest cutbacks in terms of travel,” he said.

Edgerton said he could imagine the college reaching 600 students by 2020, but he is expecting that number to grow higher still.

“It’s hard to anticipate when this would happen, but we eventually see the College of Communication growing to somewhere around 700 students,” Edgerton said. “Certainly our sights are on things moving forward.”