WVU Stewart Hall

Stewart Hall, WVU's administration building, overlooks University Avenue on March 31, 2023.

West Virginia University, facing low student enrollment and inflation, expects significant financial headwinds next school year. 

University officials anticipate a budget deficit of $35 million, which they said could widen to $75 million in the next five years.

President Gordon Gee first shared these projections last week during his semi-annual State of the University address before outlining what school officials describe as a management improvement plan. 

“In the short term, of course, we can manage,” Gee said. “But if we want to be financially healthy as a university — and certainly financially healthy for our future — we need to correct our budget strategically.”

Rob Alsop, vice president for Strategic Initiatives, provided more details on the plan during a Campus Conversation later that week. He said the University will begin addressing its financial shortfalls with a reduction in workforce and programs.

“We take no joy about planning to be a smaller institution with fewer employees and fewer programs,” he said. “But it is something we need to do.”

Alsop added that administrators would be reaching out to departments in the coming weeks with more details about departmental changes, which could include employee reductions. However, he did not provide a specific timeline or the number of jobs that would be affected.

According to Alsop, reductions could range from hiring fewer new employees to not replacing positions due to retirement. Currently, about 15% of WVU’s benefit-eligible workforce meets retirement eligibility, according to Executive Director of Communications April Kaull.

Administrators will also be asking departments to reevaluate contracts for about 1,900 nonclassified employees, which are up for review in June.

“We're trying to think creatively about some of those areas where we could reduce some of our personnel expense before we get to that point of a layoff or a mandatory furlough,” Alsop said.

Provost Maryanne Reed said last week that the Provost’s Office would also “accelerate” its academic transformation process, which is designed to measure the health of degree programs.

Overall, the University’s financial plan will depend on future trends in student enrollment, which has been plummeting for more than a decade.

Last week, school officials said they expect a drop in student enrollment for the next five years, which will play a primary role in the university’s revenue and expenses.

According to enrollment projections provided Thursday, there will likely be 3,000 fewer students on campus by 2028. Alsop noted the estimate was based on statewide and national trends in the college-going rate.

Next school year, enrollment is anticipated to decrease by roughly 1,000 students — the largest projected decrease in the coming years.

“We’ve already lost several thousand students,” Alsop said. “And so it’s not out of the realm of possibility, given the landscape we’re looking at."

Alsop said the University is also anticipating future tuition increases, primarily due to inflation and student enrollment projections.

The University is projecting a 3% tuition increase next school year and a 3.5% tuition increase each year from 2025 to 2028 — which Alsop said is more “modest” than in the past.

“We want to continue to hold on that we cannot solve the fact that we’re going to have fewer students by putting additional, significant burdens on our students to raise tuition,” Alsop said.

Despite the likelihood of a tuition increase next semester, Alsop said the University would collect less revenue from students because of the estimated drop in enrollment.

A tuition increase will be considered by the WVU Board of Governors, he said. These decisions have historically been made at the end of the fiscal year in July.

“In the interest of putting our students first, we will work to raise more dollars for scholarship and student support services,” Alsop said.

Last week, the University announced a new scholarship to help financially support first-time students with an expected family contribution of zero.

According to the school’s new budget model, total expenses are expected to increase next school year. This is primarily due to inflation and increases in salaries and wages among other things.

Overall, Alsop said the University’s goal is to diminish the deficit by cutting expenses and reinvesting revenue into growing areas. 

“We have some expense reductions we need to make. We have to find a way to reinvest in what's going to move us forward for our strengths,” Alsop said. “But it's going to be a combination of things."

Former Editor-in-Chief

Trenton Straight was the editor-in-chief of The Daily Athenaeum in 2022-23. He is from Charleston, West Virginia.