All University Meeting provides updates, answers community questions

By Haley Hadge, Staff Writer

By Leighah Beausoleil, News Editor

 Administrators discussed the University’s enrollment, finances, anti-racism and COVID-19 initiatives during the All University Meeting held via Zoom March 29.

The meeting began with three brief presentations by executive staff, and was followed by a Q&A.

Attendees were given the option to submit questions anonymously, and 225 participants were in attendance.

Enrollment

Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, discussed the changes in enrollment for overall student headcount, which includes both those who are degree seeking and non-degree seeking. 

According to Holloway, overall headcount has decreased by approximately 500 students between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020, and full-time enrollment has decreased by approximately 300 students.

She added the enrollment data team is not only focusing on the enrollment of first-time first-year students, but on retention data as well. 

According to Holloway, between the fall and spring semesters of this academic year, enrollment is down from 4,961 to 4,615 – approximately 7%.

Holloway emphasized the importances of paying attention to the enrollment of non-degree seeking students. 

She said non-degree seeking graduate students make up a lot of that 7%, with their enrollment down 28%. 

She added the enrollment of these non-degree seeking students is important because they help allow classes to run for those who are degree seeking by helping fulfill the minimum required students for a class. 

Holloway said, based on some modeling completed by the enrollment data team, it appears the enrollment of first-time first-years will be “leveling off” in the fall, but the enrollment of transfer students has been “struggling.”

She said her office has been working on some new initiatives that not only focus on recruitment of first-time first-year students or transfer students, but on retaining the students who are already enrolled. 

She added her office is also not only working on retaining these students, but “retaining families” as well. 

Some of the initiatives include translating some of the pages on the FSU website to other languages such as Spanish and Portugese, virtual opportunities for prospective students such as tours and admitted students meetings, and increasing financial aid, according to Holloway.

Finance

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said the University is facing a structural issue of enrollment decline of 20% over the last four years. Ten percent of this decline occurred within the current fiscal year – partly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions. 

Hamel added, “Per the enrollment protection model, we anticipate another over 4% decline for fall of ’21.” This 25% decrease in student enrollment costs the University $11 million annually. 

Their response is multipart, said Hamel, including major bond restructuring and refinancing “that essentially deferred … a large portion of debt service in FY21 [Fiscal Year 2021] as well as in FY22.”

This debt service equates to about $6.5 million for FY21 and a projected $3.3 million for FY22, he said. This refinancing had a “net positive net present value factor.”

Due to this “debt restructuring,” $10 million in savings have been identified, and student charges have not been impacted, said Hamel.  

Additionally, this restructuring has eliminated “the need for debt service reserve funds on the initial issuance of our bonds … to the tune of about $13.9 million,” he said. 

Therefore, the cost of residence hall rent stays consistent, which makes the University “attractive to students in terms of their overall cost of attendance at the University,” Hamel said. 

The Debt Service Relief Fund will also be financing a project aiming to make Linsley Hall “more attractive to upper-class students” through improvements to the suite developments and area kitchens, he said. 

The Board of Trustees has put forth a long-term directive to bring down student costs to the “segment average,” which FSU was recently at in 2018, said Hamel.

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“We do want to bring that back to the average,” said Hamel. 

Another enrollment initiative underway is the reduction in personnel to a level commensurate with the reduced student population, he added.  

In order to achieve this, the University has enacted a “separation incentive program or early retirement program,” said Hamel. Although they have achieved their anticipated numbers in staff participation, faculty participation in the program has not met the mark. 

The budget has been adjusted to make up for this lack of participation, and it is anticipated that over the next three years, there will be a reduction in 15 personnel positions, which “represents a 3.2% reduction in positions,”  he said. 

Although this decrease in personnel is less than the decrease in student enrollment, Hamel said this marks the start of changes being made over “multiple years, through attrition,” to “better align the size of the institution in terms of personnel with the size of the institution in terms of students.”

Anti-racism

Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said the Inclusive Excellence Committee (IEC) is “focused on the student experience.”

Cabello added in her office’s annual reports the IEC has requested that divisions “report on their anti-racism work this year,” which the IEC will then compile and “share more widely.” 

The main goal of the IEC is to closely examine the practices and policies of the institution with a “critical eye,” said Cabello. 

The Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) is still working to “elevate different conversation topics and work to the larger community,” she said. 

“We [the IEC] have a cross-divisional group,” said Cabello, with members from “HR, alumni, Student Affairs, the library/faculty administrators, CDI, finance, and business services.”

The IEC has identified and is working to address problematic practices and policies, said Cabello. These include “policies that allow for the segregation of resources and risks,” which “create inherent group disadvantage, allow for differential evaluation in humans by race, and limit the self-determination of certain groups and people.”

Cabello added these problematic policies exist at the campus, state, and federal levels. 

The IEC has released four guides “developing our common language and understanding anti-racism and systemic racism” to faculty and staff via email and the myFramingham site in the “work tab,” according to Cabello.

Furthermore, the department has been awarded $62,000 “for the Massachusetts higher education innovation fund to run a multi-day racial equity policy review institute,” said Cabello.

She added, “The ultimate goal is that folks would be able to leave that institute with an action plan for the next academic year.”

COVID-19 Initiatives 

One anonymous attendee asked if COVID-19 testing was going to continue in the fall.

Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, said testing will continue for the duration of the current semester and discussions have been taking place for those who will be at the University during the summer who “will probably be subject to some testing requirements.”

She said for next fall, there is no “solid” answer because the University is expecting some changes, but is not sure of anything at the moment.

Regarding vaccinations, President F. Javier Cevallos said the University encourages everyone to get one when they are eligible.

He said the University has requested “to be a vaccination site, but we have not been able to receive that designation.”

Everyone in Massachusetts over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the vaccine April 19, according to Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and student life.

Stefan Papaioannou, a history professor, asked in the chat why the University can’t require the COVID-19 vaccine when proof of vaccines for other diseases is “already required for incoming students.”

Holloway said the University would like to require them, but the COVID-19 vaccine has not been around long enough “to pass that requirement.”

Academic Affairs

Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said 84% of fall classes are scheduled to have some form of on-campus component, which is a “huge leap” from the spring, when it was only 12%.

She added of that 84%, 64.5% will be fully face-to-face, and 19.5% will be a hybrid. The remaining 16% of classes will be held fully remotely. 

Zimmerman said 96% of day division faculty will be offering courses on campus. 

Nicole Carey, administrative assistant, asked in the chat if the University is “designing any new programs to fill gaps in the workforce.”

Zimmerman said the University is offering a new master’s in higher education leadership, and the administration is currently working on a master’s in social work. 

She added child and family studies is a new undergraduate major as well. 

“We’re also working on articulation agreements for a master’s with the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science,” she said. “So there are a number of projects we’re working on, and those are just a few examples.”

Rich Davino, director of Career Services, asked in the chat if the University is “considering industry/respected certificate programs.”

Zimmerman said, “I know that there’s a big push at all the state universities to think about this, and whether we should develop certificates … that are related to particular skills or brief programs that students undertake in order to gain skills in a particular area that they could have to present to a potential employer. So, it’s something we’re talking about – it’s not anything our University has done.”