Declining enrollment will factor into DePaul’s 2020-21 budget

President+Esteban+speaking+at+2019%27s+State+of+the+University+address.

Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

President Esteban speaking at 2019's State of the University address.

DePaul has begun its process for preparing a budget for the 2020-21 academic year, and the university says it must take enrollment declines into consideration.

The university won’t have a budget until after the Board of Trustees’ meeting in early March, but the process for putting it together began last quarter.

The Strategic Resource Allocation Committee (SRAC), made up of nine members chosen by DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban, held executive sessions in November. Their recommendation will then go to Esteban “for his review and endorsement,” university spokesperson Carol Hughes said.

A tuition pricing committee weighs in on fees and financial aid, and the Offices of Academic Affairs, the president and the executive vice president gives budget presentations to the SRAC, according to a Newsline article.

“If he approves, the budget proposal would go to the finance committee of the Board of Trustees for its endorsement,” Hughes said. “This would occur either at the December 2019 meeting or the February 2020 meeting.”

Assuming the finance committee approves, the budget would then go to the full Board of Trustees for final approval.

“If the board ratifies, we would communicate the particulars of the budget to the entire university community immediately thereafter,” Hughes said.

Hughes declined to provide members of the SRAC for interviews.

“It’s a bit premature to discuss at this point since the budget process has just begun and we don’t have a budget for next fiscal year, and won’t until board of trustees approves it in March 2020,” Hughes wrote in an email in November.

“For the 2020-21 budget, the [Board of Trustees’] finance committee asked the university to set a budget that is based on conservative enrollment projections and moderate tuition pricing increases,” said Jeff Bethke, DePaul’s Chief Financial Officer and chair of the SRAC, in a Newsline article.

Since a peak in 2010, DePaul’s population has declined by 3,334 students, according to a PowerPoint presentation by the provost and vice president of the university on Sept. 20.

Declining birth rates in the 2000s are a general concern for higher education. By 2026, Esteban said during his State of the University address in October, there will be a sharp decline in 18-year-olds. And of the 18-year-olds, less are attending universities, with a projected 18 percent decline in Illinois high school graduates by 2029.

Although enrollment in higher education nationally is declining at about 4 percent, Illinois is seeing a decline of nearly 17 percent. DePaul has seen a roughly 12 percent decline since 2011, Bethke said during a town hall meeting in September. 

Nathan Grawe, an expert in demographics trends at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, said a combination of low fertility rates and immigration and interstate migration patterns will affect most universities, with the exception of highly competitive colleges.

Less competitive schools tend to draw their enrollment from the regional population, such as  DePaul, which has an acceptance rate of about 70 percent.

Schools could turn their recruitment efforts toward regions that are seeing growth, like the Southwest, Grawe said.

At the October town hall meeting, Interim Provost Salma Ghanem said that because many of DePaul’s students are from out-of-state, specifically Texas and California, the university has increased marketing initiatives in those areas, as well as hiring on-the-ground recruiters in those states.

However, he also said recruitment shouldn’t be universities’ primary response to increasing or maintaining their enrollments; they should also make a strong effort to retain the students they already have.

“We need to come up with new ways of running our enterprises,” Grawe told The DePaulia.

This includes serving underrepresented groups through additional resources, changing curriculums to make them more relevant to students’ interests and helping create a sense of belonging.

DePaul has been focusing on increasing what officials call student affinity, which is essentially school spirit.

Ghanem said at the time that the university is “trying to be purposeful” about engagement, saying that both enrollment and retention happen at the student and professor level as much as it does at the administrative level.

The university also has several new academic programs in the works, including the new Grace School of Applied Diplomacy and programs focusing on health care, such as speech language pathology and occupational therapy, Ghanem said during the town hall.

Grawe also mentioned provisional acceptances as a way to potentially increase enrollment.

DePaul has a partnership with City Colleges of Chicago, called the DePaul Harold Washington Academy, in which participants who complete their associate’s degrees at Harold Washington College will be offered admission to DePaul at the end of the program, according to the 2019 President’s Report.