The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees is scheduled to hear the full findings of a recently completed capacity study during its meeting next week.
While the study suggests UW has the capacity to add roughly 800-1,700 students in the coming years given current infrastructure and courseloads, it also turned up a few bottlenecks standing between UW and its dreams of expansion.
These bottlenecks — areas where demand outpaces or strains current resources — are partially the result of a $42 million budget reduction completed by UW during the most recent biennium.
The College of Business, for example, is serving more students with fewer professors this semester, Associate Dean Kent Drummond said.
“Definitely, bottlenecks do occur and they have to do primarily with what we call the common body of knowledge courses,” he said. “These are often our intro courses in accounting, finance, management and marketing. They’re also taken, of course, not only by our majors in the college of business, but many non college of business majors as well.”
Having lost six tenured faculty since the 2016-2017 academic year — five of whom served in senior leadership roles and three of whom took separation incentives tied to the budget cuts — the College of Business has dropped to 50 faculty members.
“When we don’t have enough faculty, that’s where you run into problems,” Drummond said. “We’re trying to ease that by now hiring more faculty starting in the coming year.”
Between fall 2016 and fall 2017, 86 faculty left the university — 43 through separation incentives. This is roughly four times UW’s normal turnover rate, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kate Miller said in September.
Like all academic divisions across campus, the College of Business is in the midst of working out how many faculty it can hire before fall 2018. The Office of Academic Affairs decides how these new faculty positions will be distributed among UW’s various schools and colleges.
It is too early to say how many positions the College of Business will be afforded, Drummond said.
“We feel that we’re starting to turn the corner because of these permissions to hire that we’ve gotten in just the last few months,” he said. “So, I think in general, people are very hopeful that the bottlenecks we’ve been experiencing can be eased up considerably.”
UW’s Disability Support Services — a division serving approximately 575 students, or 4 percent of the student body — also finds itself short-staffed and facing bottlenecks, said Amanda O’Brien, the division’s director.
“With increasing numbers of eligible students each year, (Disability Support Services) coordinators work very hard to ensure that all students who are eligible to receive accommodations are able to do so,” O’Brien said.
“A variety of factors contributed to staff vacancies in the last two years. We are moving forward to fill open positions as quickly as possible to continue to provide appropriate services for students.”
Disability Support Services’ home, the Division of Student Affairs, cut $300,000 from its annual budget before fiscal year 2018 — its share of a $5.91 million reduction that touched every corner of campus. The cuts included three layoffs, though UW never announced which departments within Student Affairs the layoffs came from.
O’Brien said her division currently employs four full-time staff members and is looking to fill two vacant positions. She added the division is currently in talks to add staff and expand resources.
“As with any student resource, DSS growth will be critical to continue to support student enrollment as the demographic of students with disabilities coming to college continues to increase,” O’Brien said. “We are very fortunate to have great working relationships with other student support programs on campus to allow us to make appropriate referrals for students who need support in a variety of areas.”
As the university moves forward with an eye to increasing enrollment — as well as its faculty and staff base — many are hopeful UW can overcome the challenges. But while staff leaders plan to keep up with increased demand for services and faculty strain to keep up with increased demand for courses, Drummond said the people lost during and because of the budget cuts cannot be easily replaced.
“The institutional knowledge we lost is irreplaceable,” he said.
The Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss Huron Consulting Group’s institutional capacity study during its meeting Jan. 18.