CU Boulder enrollment drops, administrators warn more budget cuts are coming

University of Colorado Boulder officials expect decreased enrollment to exacerbate massive budget cuts already levied upon the largest university in the state as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on higher education, according to a memo sent to campus employees Thursday morning.

CU Boulder estimates it will have to cut an additional $17 million from this year’s budget after administrators slashed it in anticipation of financial shortfalls because of COVID-19.

CU Boulder officials did not immediately respond to questions about how much enrollment had declined, citing the need to wait until a Sept. 11 campus census. An earlier projection in June had said enrollment would remain stable, but that projection now appears to be off.

State funding cuts, enrollment changes and costs associated with COVID-19 left CU Boulder with an estimated funding gap of $120 million this fiscal year compared to a year ago, Provost Russell Moore and Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke wrote in their memo.

After a one-time, $48 million lifeboat in the form of federal relief funds, $14 million in savings from furloughs and temporary pay cuts and $7 million in contingency funds set aside after 2013 enrollment declines, the campus still has at least a $51 million general fund gap, Moore and O’Rourke wrote.

“All administrative and academic units must begin addressing our new budget reality with current and planned cost-saving efforts that we will begin to implement in the upcoming weeks,” Moore and O’Rourke wrote.

CU Boulder employees will learn details about budget cuts to their schools, colleges and administrative units by the end of this week, Moore and O’Rourke wrote.

In July, CU Boulder officials asked colleges, schools and departments on the campus to cut their budgets by 5% for a one-time budget cut. Thursday’s memo said unless CU Boulder’s financial situation “significantly and unexpectedly” declined, no unit would be asked to reduce their budget more than 5% in this fiscal year, but also noted that the cuts may extend beyond this year.

“We will notify schools, colleges and administrative units whether the current year’s temporary budget reductions will become continuing budget reductions once we have a better understanding of this year’s and next year’s enrollments,” Moore and O’Rourke wrote. “Until then, we encourage units to approach this year’s reductions with long-term plans in mind.”

In June, financial experts at CU announced the system’s budget for the next academic year would fall 5.3% from last year, dipping to $4.54 billion from $4.79 billion, largely due to the financial impacts of the new coronavirus.

Higher education institutions across the state and country are reeling from pandemic-related lacerations to their budgets, which are often first on the chopping block when the state makes cuts. Legislators shaved $493 million from the upcoming year’s higher education budget to patch a $3.3 billion coronavirus-shaped hole in the state budget. Gov. Jared Polis sutured that wound with $450 million of federal CARES Act money that he issued to public colleges and universities to be used for pandemic-associated costs.

“Each of you has been impacted by furloughs and temporary pay reductions, and our academic and administrative units are making difficult decisions on behalf of our campus community,” Moore and O’Rourke wrote. “We remain grateful. We believe these difficult decisions will prepare us for a more rapid recovery and enable us to be a stronger university in the future. We also understand the real impacts budget cuts have on the lives of our community members and thank you all for the sacrifices you have made for CU Boulder.”

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