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Kent State University is looking at budget cuts, possible impacts on programs, staff

People walk at Kent State University's main campus.
Eman Abu-Khaled
Ideastream Public Media
People walk at Kent State University's main campus. Kent State's president in mid-February 2024 said the university will need to consider significant budget cuts in the coming years

Kent State University’s president said in an address Tuesday that the university will need to reduce its spending by tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, which could mean cuts to programs and to staff.

President Todd Diacon, in an online presentation to the university community, said Kent State will try as best as it can to cut through “attrition” – removing unfilled positions – but said some layoffs could still happen.

“We're going to have to make notable changes, changes in how we operate,” he said. “Changes in how we operate our regional campuses. Changes in how we organize academic programs. We'll need to make noticeable reductions in the number of employees at Kent State. And it isn't that we will have to do more with less. It's rather that we're just going to have to figure out how to do things differently.”

He said the university will need to make cuts over the next four fiscal years in order to achieve a balanced budget that will no longer require more cuts. That amounts to $17 million in the next fiscal year, $7.8 million the following year, $17.3 million the year after, and $26 million for fiscal year 2028 (which roughly corresponds with the 2027-2028 academic year). He said the university already made cuts for the current fiscal year.

He said the the cuts are driven by several factors: relatively flat state aid, a cap on how much the university can increase tuition each year and challenges with enrollment. Universities and colleges in Northeast Ohio and across the country have been dealing with a challenging budget outlook in recent years, partly due to declining enrollment. The main culprit, Diacon said, is shifting demographics with institutions competing for dwindling numbers of high school graduates due to a declining birth rate in the U.S.

Despite that, Kent State had some good news in fall 2023, with an increase in the total number of students for the first time in years.

Some other potential areas where the university will look to make cuts or changes include:

  • Removing courses that are typically less than half full or one-third full of students, and potentially increasing “workloads” for faculty where they’re “noticeably lower” than other academic units at Kent State, or compared to other similar programs nationwide
  • Looking at the tuition discount that Kent State offers employees to attend college. He said the lowest-paid employees will still receive a 100% discount, but the university could move to a “sliding scale” to give less of a discount to higher-paid employees.
  • Consolidating into fewer buildings
  • Reducing employee benefits
  • Combining administrative units and combining colleges and academic departments

Diacon said he recognized that cuts will not be popular with employees and students.

Kent State President Todd Diacon speaking during a Feb. 13 online webcast, discussing how the university will need to reduce its budget in the coming years.
Kent State University
Kent State President Todd Diacon speaking during a Feb. 13 online webcast, discussing how the university will need to reduce its budget in the coming years.

“As we close down programs as we reduce spending,” he said, “people are going to push back and I don't blame them. If I were in one of the affected programs departments endeavors, and I saw spending reductions, I would be unhappy, and I would push back… I would, though, hope that you could explain our budget and our budget challenges to those who are not familiar with them.”

He said Kent State is not currently running yearly budget deficits, even though expenses are outpacing revenues, but he said without careful management and cuts, Kent State will.

As time goes on, he said the university will strive to be transparent about what it’s doing and keep students and staff updated on how it’s reducing the budget.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.