The widely publicized rift between faculty and staff at Stephen F. Austin State University and its president Dr. Scott Gordon reached a peak last week, weeks after Gordon shared documents detailing how the financial crisis developed.
Gordon’s analysis reveals a 10-year trend of declining enrollment and student credit hours — the primary statistics that drive state appropriations.
The budget was one of three chief concerns expressed by faculty and staff during a series of meetings, Board of Regents chairwoman Karen Gantt said during a special meeting over the weekend. Tensions came to a head after Gordon accepted an $85,000 raise this spring but later returned it. The Faculty Senate issued a vote a no confidence in Gordon, in part due to his acceptance of the raise.
The vote, which also asked Regents to revoke Gordon’s contract, was supported by all heads of all the university’s departments and deans of its six colleges. Regents so far have taken no action in open session but have requested an audit of finances.
From 2011 to 2020, the number of student credit hours provided by SFA dropped from 336,866 to 324,726. Since each credit hour generates about $59.79, the revenue amounts to $689,430.60. That amount is roughly equal to the tuition revenue of 400 full-time students.
That estimate could vary since the state allocation is based on the student’s classification and the level of the course. Post-graduate courses get the highest reimbursement and freshmen-level courses are the lowest. The state uses the lowest available reimbursement rate in the calculation, so freshmen taking upper-level courses or upper classmen taking freshman level courses would both get minimal state funding.
Current enrollment figures offer a glimmer of hope. The number of incoming freshmen is up by 53 students (3.3%), and student credit hours are up 4.1%. Graduate school enrollment also grew by 32 students (2.1%) with a 2.9% increase in student credit hours.
The decline in revenue from state appropriations has been a steady, long-running trend. Another 5 percent decrease is anticipated for the 2022 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, expenses climbed by $59 million from 2011 to 2020, according to Gordon’s documents.
Among those expenses, in the last year SFA has not only had to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, but two one-in-a-lifetime winter storms as well as a near miss from Hurricane Laura.
The pandemic forced the university to refund $9.1 million to students in the spring 2020 semester for housing, meals and fees for services that had to be canceled because of COVID-19.
Each round of federal aid that ostensibly was being given to overcome hardships from COVID had limitations that prevented the funds from being used in the same ways the earned revenue would.
SFA received $10.5 million from the federal coronavirus recovery package, but $5.2 million had to be awarded to students as emergency aid. The remaining $5.2 million was split with $2.6 going to classroom technology upgrades and $2.6 million to support the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Gordon also identified an estimated $3.5 million in higher expenditures for retiree insurance, software, adjunct faculty and summer school upfront expenses.
Given the financial impact many Texas families have felt throughout the pandemic, the effects of COVID-19 on enrollment may continue to be seen at SFA in the coming semesters.
Gordon reported that the staff furlough allowed SFA to recapture $1.44 million from the revenue shortfall and another $15 million from the third round of American Rescue Fund allocations.
A series of town hall meetings is planned throughout the current academic year to keep students, faculty, staff and the community updated on university finances.