Education

Fort Valley State announces layoffs, cuts after enrollment shortfalls

Fort Valley State University, facing a huge enrollment decline and a resulting loss of $7 million in revenue, is laying off 14 people and taking other “tough measures” to reduce costs.

The university’s enrollment declined about 25 percent from the 2013 fall semester -- and 38 percent from a high of 3,896 students in fall 2011. For fall semester 2013, Fort Valley enrolled 3,186 students, but projected enrollment this fall is just 2,400, according to a university announcement Wednesday.

University officials met with the 14 employees on Tuesday, offering 60 days of paid leave, information about their benefits and assistance from the university’s human resource counselors, said Fort Valley President Ivelaw Griffith. Besides the layoffs, the university is also eliminating 11 open positions, including those in the president’s office, academic affairs and the business office.

The university announced the “reduction in force” and other measures to the campus Tuesday, and officials held a town hall meeting on campus after the sessions with employees. Griffith said he would meet with student government leaders next week.

To combat rumors about the cuts, the university has established a web page with answers to frequently asked questions, Griffith noted. The site is http://bit.ly/1w7AkQS.

Griffith said the reduction in enrollment was driven by several factors, including changes in federal financial aid, increased admissions standards and demographic shifts. He cited statistics from the University System of Georgia that the number of high school graduates in south and Middle Georgia is declining, while the numbers in metro Atlanta and north Georgia are growing.

“Schools in our part of the world have a tougher time with recruitment” as a result of those shifts, Griffith said.

Griffith, who completed his first year at the helm of the university in July, said the university is looking at ways to expand beyond its historical recruiting grounds.

“We have to find new markets,” he said. “We are reaching out to Hispanic students, we are reaching out to Asian students, we are reaching out to white students, we reaching out to international students.”

To help reduce costs, the university is accelerating its “green energy” initiatives, closing a residence hall, cutting campus mail delivery, reorganizing departments, suspending nonessential faculty and staff searches, deferring all nonessential travel, and requiring all faculty to teach full course loads to reduce the number of part-time faculty.

The athletics budget will also be reduced by $400,000, or 19 percent from the previous year, according to the university’s web page, and “additional reductions likely will be necessary due to the extent of the enrollment decline.

FVSU and System Office staffs will continue to analyze auxiliary operations to identify additional expense reductions and revenue enhancements.”

The university has $5 million in annual lease payments and the University System “anticipates advancing a portion of the fiscal year 2015 lease payments for housing and the student center/stadium projects from a ... reserve created for that purpose,” according to the web site.

John Millsaps, an associate vice chancellor for the University System, confirmed that the system will loan the university money from the Capital Liability Reserve Fund to meet its obligations. The funds will be repaid “as the institution stabilizes and revenues improve.”

He also noted, “We have worked closely with President Griffith over the past months and support his proactive efforts. The plan announced by Fort Valley outlines the actions required to address the financial issues and bring the institution onto solid footing.”

To increase demand among potential students, the university is revamping its degree offerings as well, including eliminating “low-producing degree programs” and adding degrees in higher demand fields, which were not specified.

Part of the decline was also due to the university’s own policies, which eliminated admission of students who did not meet the University System’s criteria for admission, according to the announcement.

The university will add a “pre-matriculation program” this fall to help prospective students meet those criteria for admission and add a “University College” by spring 2015.

“Our university’s challenges have not been met head-on over the years, but we can ill afford to continue doing so,” Griffith said in the university’s statement. “I’m confident in my team’s ability to tackle the issues, confident that our faculty and staff will place the needs of our students front and center in all they do, thankful to Chancellor Huckaby for his support, and grateful to our National Alumni Association and local and state leaders for their advice and assistance. I’m optimistic about our future.”

To contact writer Mark Vanderhoek, call 744-4331.

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