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Key Accomplishments Aligned to Strategic Plan Showcased in December Board Meeting

With the 2023 calendar year coming to a close, President Feinstein and his Cabinet provided a comprehensive update to the Board of Trustees during the Finance and Audit Committee and Board of Trustees meetings on Dec. 7 and 8.

With the 2023 calendar year coming to a close, University of Northern Colorado President Andy Feinstein and his Cabinet provided a comprehensive update to the Board of Trustees during the Finance and Audit Committee and Board of Trustees meetings on Dec. 7 and 8. Presentations included a preview of the Facilities Comprehensive Plan, an overview of planning efforts related to the university’s 10-year strategic plan, Rowing, Not Drifting 2030, and the institution’s financial outlook for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. 

The board voted on and approved several action items, including updates to the board policy manual, a resolution honoring the life, work and legacy of former UNC President Dick Bond and a new employment agreement for Feinstein. 

Strategic Planning 

As Feinstein addressed the board, he indicated that as the university is heading into the final stretch of Phase II of the strategic plan, which will wrap up in June 2024, he’s proud of the work that has been accomplished. Some of the key highlights included his continued commitment to a sustainable budget, progress in funding for the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine and the university’s pursuit of becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution, as well as some of the recent successes achieved through the Strategic Enrollment Management plan. 

Proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine 

Updates regarding UNC’s progress in establishing a College of Osteopathic Medicine kicked off with the acknowledgment of the $25 million gift from The Weld Trust, the university’s most significant achievement this fall which brings the total amount raised for the proposed college to over $31 million. Other noteworthy updates presented included a proposed path to financing the project, progress with the university successfully securing 76% of the clinical rotations necessary for third and fourth-year students, as well as receiving letters of intent from multiple rural hospitals interested in welcoming UNC medical students. 

Feinstein also gave board members a preview of several key highlights included in an economic impact study on the proposed college that was recently commissioned by the university, noting that detailed findings will be released at the start of the new year. 

Progress Toward Becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution 

Tobias Guzmán, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, provided trustees with a comprehensive update on the university’s efforts to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), key action 4 in the university’s strategic plan. Guzmán began his update to the board restating the purpose of UNC’s efforts to become an HSI. He cited data from the Colorado Department of Higher Education indicating that the Hispanic/Latino population is Colorado’s largest and fastest growing ethnic group, but has the lowest average educational attainment and lowest college enrollment rate of any other ethnic group in the state.  

Guzmán’s presentation explained the university’s dual approach to becoming an HSI; navigating the details of the federal designation process while implementing various programs, resources and initiatives that prioritize culture.   

“The federal designation is not the destination,” said Guzmán. “We must have the dual goal of culture and designation and recognize that they are both equally important to our success.”  

He shared several key highlights that reflect the work that has already taken place to enhance the culture on campus, with the goal of creating a greater sense of belonging to support student success. Some of those efforts include strengthening community engagement, particularly with local Hispanic communities, increasing cultural competency training, language accessibility, faculty and staff representation and student engagement programs, as well as improving data collection and analysis to inform ongoing work. 

Guzmán said that the process of achieving the federal designation of HSI status can only be completed when the university has been invited to apply for the designation by the U.S. Department of Education. That invitation is contingent on the university meeting the definition of an eligible institution and having an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25% Hispanic.  There is a waiver option for institutions of higher education that do not meet established criteria. According to Guzmán, the university should know in February or March if they have been invited to apply for the federal designation. 

In the meantime, Guzmán said that faculty and staff will continue efforts already in progress identified in each of the five university’s HSI steering subcommittees: HSI infrastructure development, admissions and recruitment of Latinx students and families, retention and success of Latinx students, faculty research and grants and best practices of new HSIs. 

Strategic Enrollment Management Planning Initiatives 

The first key action in the university’s strategic plan is to develop and implement a Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) plan with the goal of achieving and maintaining optimum recruitment, retention and graduation rates. Pete Lien, associate vice president of Enrollment Management and Stephanie Torrez, assistant vice president of Student Academic Success, presented several successful initiatives that showcase some of the recent efforts in pursuit of that goal. In particular, Lien touched on the success of UNC’s new financial aid optimization model and the university's First-Year Admission Guarantee. 

UNC's new financial aid optimization model shifts more institutional support to students who show the greatest financial need. According to Lien, one area where the university saw a direct impact from recent changes was in the 3% increase in the number of Pell-eligible students in FY23 compared to the previous fall. As the new model was implemented mid-year, Lien said the increase does not yet represent a full year of data. 

The university’s First-Year Admission Guarantee, a program that guarantees admission to eligible Colorado high school students and provides clarity around the college admission process, has also shown positive results. In addition to being very well received by high school counselors and teachers, the university has seen sustained increases in the quality of students applying and being admitted to the university since the guarantee started last fall. 

As the university looks ahead to next fall, leadership is cautiously optimistic that the strategies and tactics outlined in the institution’s strategic plan are producing positive outcomes. Fall 2023 numbers showed the second highest fall-to-fall retention rate on record for new full-time students and the university has admitted its second largest class in its history. 

“If you compare where we were two years ago to where we are now, you can see there is a lot of growth happening,” said Cedric Howard, vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services. “The significant overhaul of our admissions processes is beginning to produce significant outcomes.“ 

Fiscal Year 2023-24 (FY24) First Quarter Forecast 

Dale Pratt, vice president for Finance and Administration, presented the fiscal year 2023-24 (FY24) forecast, based on results through the first quarter. Although currently projecting a $6 million operating loss by fiscal year end, Pratt told the board he expects that projected timing and accounting adjustments, including transfers to capital reserves, will reduce the projected deficit to $4.2 million. 

According to Pratt, there are two main factors driving the net operating loss; lower than expected net student revenues and higher than expected personnel expenses.  

Net student revenues are projected to be $3.6 million under budget, a discrepancy that can be attributed to lower enrollment than anticipated this fall at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. As a consequence of lower-than-projected enrollments, almost half of that amount ($1.7 million) comes from shortfalls in expected room and board revenue. 

Personnel expenses, which are projected to be $2.2 million more than budgeted, are the result of several factors, with lower-than-expected employee turnover having the largest impact. During FY21 and FY22, the university’s overall turnover rate was just above 19%, which resulted in significant vacancy savings. In FY23, however, turnover fell to 14.3%, leaving an approximate $2 million difference between the budgeted vacancy savings of $8 million and where the university is today at about $6 million. Pratt said that while the good news is that the numbers show the university’s recruiting and retention efforts are working, that success means that going forward, the university must recalculate its vacancy savings formula to reflect the budgetary impacts of turnover rates returning to pre-pandemic levels.   

Another contributing factor is the decision by university leadership to pay the entire portion of medical benefit premium increases for faculty and staff beginning in January 2024 so that those mandated cost increases were not absorbed by employees. The university absorbed similarly significant increases in January 2023. While this comes at a cost to the university, covering these costs increases the percentage of benefits covered by the university and is an important investment in employee total compensation. State mandated increases in the compensation requirements for employees in the state classified staff system are also contributing factors to the projected increases in personnel expenses. 

Pratt presented board members with several strategies in his Fiscal 2024-25 Financial Drivers and Outlook report that university leadership has already been discussing that will focus on improving revenues and reducing expenses, while keeping in mind where the university should be strategically investing. 

“We have to address the shortfall and correct it,” said Pratt. “We have significant work to do to arrive at an outcome that is manageable, but we’re in a position that is strong enough to overcome these fiscal challenges.” 

UNC President Employment Agreement 

The board concluded their meeting after returning from an executive session to take action on President Feinstein’s employment agreement. The new agreement is for a five-year term, effective through June 30, 2029, and follows five years of exceptional leadership as outlined in the positive comprehensive presidential review completed by the board last June. The board expressed their appreciation for President Feinstein’s leadership and dedication to UNC.  

– written by Deanna Herbert

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