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Thursday, October 14, 2021

From the President

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2021

Fall 2021 Enrollment and Budget Update

At the October 8 meeting of the College Senate, members of the cabinet shared updates on preliminary fall 2021 enrollment numbers along with updated budget projections for 2021–2022 and 2022–2023.

The factors contributing to our long-term financial challenges remain—a shrinking pool of high school graduates and community college students, retention rates of existing students, unfunded negotiated salary increases, and stagnant state funding—but the pandemic’s uneven impact on our student population over the past year has deepened and accelerated our anticipated structural budget deficit moving forward.

Across the country, higher education enrollment is down as a result of the pandemic. Preliminary projections released last month at the SUNY Board of Trustees meeting shows that across the system, SUNY is expecting a 4.7 percent decline in overall enrollment this fall, with a 7.7 percent year-over-year drop among comprehensive colleges.

At Buffalo State College, our projected overall enrollment for fall 2021 is approximately 7,200 students, representing a larger than anticipated decline of 13 percent compared with our fall 2020 numbers. While we do believe that a portion of our decline this fall is related to SUNY’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, we also know that Black and Brown families have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, leaving many of our students and their families to make the difficult decision to step away from their college education.

These new challenges have added to an already difficult enrollment environment at Buffalo State. Although we were able to bring in the largest incoming class of first-year students among SUNY comprehensive colleges this fall despite a sectorwide decline in applications of 13.6 percent, we continue to face challenges in retaining our existing students. Our collective work to improve student retention must continue in earnest, including the important work of the President’s Advisory Council for Undergraduate Retention. Additionally, the Enrollment and Resource Planning Task Force will continue working to strengthen our strategic enrollment management planning, while also looking at streamlining course offerings and identifying possible new academic programs and initiatives to stabilize our enrollment.  

Of course, our shifting enrollment landscape has greatly affected our college budget. As we reported in May, the temporary institutional grants from all three phases of the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) provided temporary relief from the immediate impacts of our growing structural deficit. All told, the college has received $34.9 million in one-time federal funds since 2020 to help stabilize our operations during the pandemic. Despite this much-needed assistance, which includes $16.4 million in HEERF funding in the 2021–2022 budget cycle, we are still estimating a $3.1 million deficit this year. Looking ahead to 2022–2023 and beyond, we are anticipating a recurring structural operating deficit between $14 million and $16 million.

While we are hopeful that New York State’s current budget surplus and SUNY-wide advocacy efforts may lead to increased direct state tax support to campuses in the future, we must work together to address our structural budget deficit now. Our spending controls (PDF, 375 KB) processes remain in place, along with a 5 percent reduction to each division’s spending plan for 2021–2022. Later this month, I will provide an overview of the second year of our Strategic Resource Planning Process (SRPP) and implementation timeline. Additionally, Vice President for Finance and Management Laura Barnum will host the next Bengal Business Forum on Thursday, October 28, to provide an update on 2021–2022 SRPP outcomes and to outline the 2022–2023 process. I invite all members of the campus community to attend. Please monitor the Daily Bulletin for details about the meeting format and time and to RSVP.

As we work through these challenges together, I want to thank you for your tireless work to support Buffalo State and our students. We will remain true Bengals in the best of times and in difficult times.