Cleveland State University is preparing to offer faculty and staff voluntary buyout packages to help close a projected $40 million budget gap.

At a faculty senate meeting Wednesday, President Laura Bloomberg repeated that the university must “manage to our reality” – one that now, according to new projections, could see the university enrolling about 13,000 students by 2029. 

That’s a far cry from the total enrollment of 20,000 former President Harlan Sands pledged to hit by 2025 as part of the ambitious “CSU 2.0” plan.

Last fall, the university enrolled about 14,175 total students, down about 13% from the nearly 16,330 students who took classes there in 2018. Fewer students, of course, mean fewer dollars coming in.  

On Wednesday, Bloomberg said the budget hole represents 14% of Cleveland State’s operating budget. She said she will ask the university’s board of trustees to tap into its reserves for a one-time payment of $9 million to pay for the buyouts. By doing so, she said, the university is projecting to save money over time. 

“We must do this work,” Bloomberg told faculty. “It just has to be done. I want you to have those numbers, not because any of us take any pride in them, but it is our reality. I am fully confident we can do this, but only if we face it.”    

Cleveland State moves into action steps based on EY work 

The buyout offers are based in part on recommendations from the consulting firm Ernst & Young. As Signal Cleveland reported earlier this year, Cleveland State is paying about $900,000 to work with EY. 

The buyout plan needs official support from the board of trustees to move forward. Bloomberg said she has “every expectation” trustees will approve it. 

Earlier this week, a university steering committee held its sixth and final meeting with EY. Now, Bloomberg said, they are ready to start moving into action.

“They have done a tremendous amount of data analytics,” Bloomberg said about EY’s approach. “They meet regularly with a number of people. They have looked under the hood of our enrollment systems, our financial systems, our peer institutions, how we operate and organize structurally across the campus, and they also talked to a number of internal and external stakeholders.” 

EY’s full slate of recommendations will be out later this spring. On Wednesday, Bloomberg also touched on other moves the university may make. That list includes streamlining advising services, modernizing technology, and “future-proofing” its curriculum.  

Bloomberg underscored that mismanagement is not the cause of the financial problem. Like other institutions both locally and nationwide, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified enrollment struggles at Cleveland State. Plus, the university’s current enrollment totals are far lower than the nearly 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students who went there in 1980. 

“This is a national issue,” she said. “And it’s incumbent on us to get it right for this institution.” 

Cleveland State’s slated schedule for buyouts 

Here’s how the timeline may shake out. Applications could open later this month. A town hall is scheduled for early May, and then employees will indicate if they’re interested. Decisions could come as early as June.

Payments would be a one-time lump sum payment equal to the employee’s annual salary. 

The university employs lots of local residents. University officials said 332 faculty members – or about 63% of the university’s 525 full-time educators – would be eligible for buyouts. So, too, are 391 full-time staff, about 43% of the nearly 900 people who work there. 

“I can tell you that this is the first step, and everything else that we do when it comes to faculty and staff reduction will be indexed off of the extent to which we have people taking this option for themselves,” Bloomberg said Wednesday. 

No area of the university, Bloomberg added, will go untouched.

Cleveland State officials told Signal Cleveland Thursday that they are continuing to refine the recommendations discussed at this recent meeting.

“CSU is confident that it will emerge from this period of rightsizing with a new strategic vision as Cleveland’s regional, public, urban, research institution centered on the student experience,” officials wrote in a statement.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.