Cleveland State University President Laura Bloomberg said she remains “very bullish” on the future of higher education. 

“The predictions of the demise of higher education have never come true, and they are not coming true this time,” she said. 

Her optimism, however, is tempered by the reality of the financial challenges Cleveland State is facing. 

“But we are at a point of reckoning,” she said “We are going to need to adapt.”

Bloomberg made those comments earlier this week during a virtual forum with faculty and staff. The conversation aimed to give updates after the university recently moved forward with plans to offer buyouts to help stave off a projected $40 million budget gap. More than 400 employees watched. 

Cleveland State’s survival is important to the city for lots of reasons. The university is a critical institution for helping economically disadvantaged students, something it touts as social mobility. It employs more than 1,700 full-time workers who live here and drive the economy. Plus, the university estimates about 85% of its graduates stay in the region once they finish school. 

Here are a few key moments from Tuesday’s meeting. 

Dissecting Cleveland State’s finances

One of the biggest headlines came when Bloomberg told employees that, if things stay the same, Cleveland State’s $147 million in reserves could be wiped out by 2029 to cover a projected $153 million in losses. 

“That is not sustainable,” she said. “That is the path that leads to closure. We are not going to be on that path.” 

The university must submit a balanced budget to state lawmakers each year. Now, Cleveland State is forecasting out the next five years instead of taking a year-by-year approach. Bloomberg said that’s similar to what Kent State University is doing.   

“It is what we need to do to be resilient,” she said. 

Cleveland State’s biggest expense is its employees, according to Bloomberg.

“It’s heartbreaking to think about downsizing,” she said. “It is also essential for the future of the institution.” 

CSU 2.0 to fade away

The strategic plan introduced by Bloomberg’s predecessor, ousted president Harlan Sands, is on its last legs. It will sunset by 2025. Bloomberg stressed that was always the timetable. 

CSU 2.0 was introduced in 2021. It was wildly ambitious. One of its boldest goals was a call to boost total enrollment to 20,000 students by next year. Cleveland State’s not anywhere near that number. About 14,175 students enrolled last fall. That number is forecasted to keep dropping.  

Bloomberg said she expected “comments, thoughts, and some grumbles” about not hitting that number. She said higher education institutions nationwide are in similar positions. 

“We’re not alone in having set a target and not being able to achieve it,” she said. “We need to come to terms with that, even as we think about growth in the future.” 

Echoing comments she made at a recent faculty senate meeting, Bloomberg said the university needs to “plan for its reality so that we can grow and be stronger in the future.” 

Hope, she said, is not a strategy. 

Cleveland State sees areas of growth

Speaking of that growth, the meeting wasn’t focused strictly on cuts. Bloomberg highlighted that the university will still invest strategically to grow, get better and, perhaps, ultimately boost revenue. 

One slide in the virtual presentation highlighted five areas of investment to “strengthen the quality of the CSU experience.” That list includes:

  • Centralize advising
  • Maximize employer partnerships
  • Future-proof curriculum
  • Deepen transfer program partnerships
  • Modernize technology infrastructure   

“Do less with less”

The forum included a question-and-answer session with Bloomberg. Cleveland State Provost Nigamanth Sridhar and Chief Financial Officer David Jewell were also there. 

One employee asked how they’re supposed to do their job and support students with fewer resources. They said they’re already stretched thin.  

“Part of what has to happen when we right-size is that we can’t ask people to continue to do more with less,” said Bloomberg. “There are times when we will have to do less with less.”

She went on to say perhaps there could be ways to utilize technology differently or let go of other priorities to help in those situations. 

President pledges transparency

Bloomberg mentioned transparency a handful of times. This meeting, in fact, was recorded and posted online relatively quickly afterwards. A website provides updates about the process and will answer some questions that couldn’t be addressed during the hour-long discussion.

“I’m committed to transparency, because when we face it, we know what we need to do about it,” she said. 

She admitted employees may have specific questions that administrators are still trying to figure out. Bloomberg told attendees that she plans to be visible on campus to talk with them, adding that she’s “grateful to be here at Cleveland State doing this work with all of you.” 

Another virtual forum to provide more updates is set for May 2.

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