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Lower enrollment at UHCL led to layoffs, program restructuring

In FY 2018, UH Clear Lake faced a $8 million shortfall over 2017. Its student enrollment for Spring 2018 also dropped by 379 students. Budget cuts and lower enrollment rates have led to the termination of adjuncts in some departments, and full-time faculty members have taken on the added responsibility. | Oscar Aguilar/The Cougar


After laying off nine adjunct professors, Magdy Akladios thought the last one would be easier. It wasn’t. The UH Clear Lake department chair found that blaming budget cuts and lower enrollment at the university didn’t soften the blow much. The final victim became upset, asking how he’d be able to afford rent in the spring without a job.

Akladios wasn’t alone. Department heads across the UH System university were required to make faculty changes, such as eliminating adjunct positions, in response to the university’s declining enrollment, resources and revenue.

“There have been adjuncts eliminated from almost all the programs (in the College of Human Sciences and Humanities),” said Kimberly Dodson, director of the criminology program at UHCL. “We eliminated 100 adjunct positions.”

UHCL spokesperson Karen Barbier said the university is committed to providing great education to its students, despite the cuts, which she said universities nationwide are also facing.

The financial strain originated from the UHCL’s declining tuition revenue, which follows a pattern of less full-time student enrollment. This primarily impacts adjuncts because not enough students enroll in their classes — resulting in their termination or course cancellation.

UHCL is a four-year university that is part of the University of Houston System.  UHCL and UH share the same Board of Regents, but UHCL is a separate university and confers its own degrees. UHCL has four academic colleges and a satellite campus in Pearland.

Provost A. Glenn Houston, who manages the school’s academic affairs, mandated the faculty changes, which affect at least two of UHCL’s colleges. Houston did not reply to requests for comment.

Falling enrollment

For fiscal year 2018, UHCL has an estimated operating budget of $117 million. That’s $8 million less than FY 2017’s budget of $125.1 million.

The College of Human Sciences and Humanities took a hit of approximately $300,000, criminology program director Kimberly Dodson said.

To deal with the budget shortfall, Dodson said Rick Short, dean of the College of Human Sciences and Humanities, asked them to streamline classes by creating minimum cap requirements—a minimum of 15 students in undergraduate classes and 10 in graduate ones.

That was a direct result of the drop in student enrollment. Full-time student enrollment dropped from 3,997 to 3,610 from Spring 2017 to Spring 2018. Part-time enrollment increased over that period, but overall, net enrollment dropped by 131 students.

“They’re just telling us that there’s budget cuts this year and to expect more budget cuts next year,” Dodson said. “Our dean has asked us for ideas to get enrollment up.”

If the classes fail to meet the minimum cap, the department has been asked to cancel them, Dodson said. In her department, elective courses, such white-collar crime, tend to be the most affected, Dodson said, but even sections for required courses were cut. Introduction to criminal justice saw its number of sections lowered from 40 to 24. Of the 24 sections, full-time faculty now teach 15 of them because of the elimination of adjunct positions.

In total, five adjuncts were terminated from Dodson’s department. All declined to be interviewed for this story.

Higher workloads

If departments in the College of Human Sciences and Humanities cancel a required course, professors have to offer students either an independent study, for which faculty members receive no compensation, or a course replacement.

Programs not meeting the basic requirements of three full-time faculty members and five graduates within three years face potential program discontinuation, although the University has not pointed out specific programs under consideration, Dodson said.

Chloé Diepenbrock, an associate professor of writing, said that in her department, budget effects led to relying more on adjuncts, not less.

“In terms of full-time faculty, we’ve had two faculty retire whose positions have been eliminated,” Diepenbrock said. “That’s eight classes each semester that I don’t have staffed by full-time faculty.”

Adjuncts replaced the retired faculty. They earn less than other professors, so they make the most money for the university, she said. For that reason, it makes sense to use adjuncts over full-time professors because of their cost effectiveness.

Frozen budget

Budget cuts haven’t led to terminations in UHCL’s nursing program, but faculty recruitment and retainment may become more difficult than usual.

The new program is still small, said Karen Alexander, the program’s director. And since the program only has three full-time faculty and zero adjuncts, if one professor leaves, the program could be in jeopardy of not meeting the minimum requirements for most programs.

Additionally, the budget freeze makes it “harder to find the cream of the crop educators,” Alexander said. Nurses can make higher salaries working in clinical settings than they can usually find in academic settings, she said.

Partnerships with hospitals provide a means to use external resources and lessen the impact of budget cuts, she said. These resources provide the quality education expected from the institution without relying on adjuncts.

“You’ll have to think of very innovative ways to tailor your curriculum,” Alexander said. “I think where that falls in is to just be open to a variety of teaching models where you spare faculty.”

However, while partnerships with hospitals allow the nursing program to spare faculty, the budget freeze still makes it difficult to attract replacements for current faculty if someone leaves.

The average age for practicing nurses and nurse educators is 55 and 58, respectively, she said. The budget constraints make it difficult to make an attractive offer in an industry already experiencing a shortage of professionals.

“With the budget cuts comes the cuts in the ability to do research, the ability to do education research, the ability to continue education,” Alexander said. “That’s what nurses thrive on.”

‘We can’t work for free’

Shatoi King, a lecturer of nursing, said the budget cuts limit what she’s able to do to further her research and education.

“We can’t work for free, so I hope the school and the state will get these budgets under control,” King said. “And they’ll stop overpaying whoever they’re overpaying, and they’ll pay the instructors what is meant to be paid to them.”

In regard to conferences and research, King said the expenses come out of her pocket. The university doesn’t provide the software needed to conduct the research required to keep her job, she said.

“There’s a demand for our job, but the resources we need are not being provided,” King said. “I definitely never want to leave UHCL, but I might have to go and find something to supplement. Because we might not have the income.”

New strategies

In the College of Science and Engineering, Magdy Akladios, the department chair of physical and applied sciences and a professor of industrial hygiene and safety, said the university canceled overloads, which allowed professors to take on an extra class for pay.

The number of adjuncts in the physics department decreased from 10 to zero, and chemistry was about the same, Akladios said. There’s five full-time faculty members in physics and seven in chemistry.

“So faculty are being asked to do more for no compensation or less,” Akladios said.

Instead of taking on the work of the terminated adjuncts, the program began strategically offering certain courses every other semester or third semester. This keeps the program from needing additional faculty time and adjuncts, he said.

The department also raised the maximum cap for courses, and they combined undergraduate and graduate level introductory courses consisting of similar material, he said.

“It has not affected students, but it has affected the way things are being done,” Akladios said.

The dean of the College of Education, Mark Shermis, wrote in an email that the college would have been impacted by budget cuts, but “the Provost has been able to provide some additional funds so that we can continue to rely on adjuncts as we have done in the past.”

Administration from the UHCL College of Business were not available to interview before press time.

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