As an open access institution with a statewide applied learning mission, Missouri Western serves as an invaluable resource for students, families and local communities. We are critical to attracting and retaining talent in our area, and we are vital to the success of local industry and our society. So it is important that we not only survive, but also thrive. To achieve both, we must be forward thinking and strategic.

Higher education is facing unprecedented forces related to downward student enrollment trends, strained state funding, rising costs, facilities maintenance needs, tuition limits, long-term debt and online competition. Such forces have led universities (including Mizzou, UMKC, KU, NWMSU, MSU and others) to make significant reductions in personnel and programs in recent years. In some cases, universities have even closed. Now the COVID-19 crisis has added massive disruption to students, institutional operations and university finances.

Without question, Missouri Western is not immune to these forces. Our financial challenges are real and immediate. Today, we have nearly 1,000 fewer full-time undergraduate students than we did 10 years ago. Over this same period, our faculty and staff numbers increased while our financial situation progressively deteriorated. Our net position dropped by roughly $36 million over the last five years. Cash and investment levels have decreased substantially. Costs and deferred maintenance increased considerably. Tuition discounts have increased by $4 million per year. To preserve the institution, immediate and corrective actions are needed.

Missouri Western must be strategic to extricate itself from this delicate position. Having exhausted other reasonable options, we seek to bring our offerings and staffing into balance with our enrollment numbers. We cannot be everything to everyone, but must focus on our core strengths. Sadly, this involves the elimination of quality programs and a heart-breaking reduction in personnel.

At Missouri Western, we have exceptional programs in art, music, nursing, business, biology, chemistry, computer science, psychology, criminal justice, law, social work, education, physical education, sports management, engineering technology and others that draw higher student numbers. We will continue to invest in these clusters. Conversely, we have too many under-enrolled programs that require regular subsidization. By way of illustration, over 75% of our students graduate from about 30% of our programs. In contrast, nearly 35 of our majors currently enroll fewer than 10 students total and another 10 majors enroll between 11 and 15 students total. These programs are unsustainable in the current environment.

Recently, a nine-person Academic Review Board composed of faculty and campus leaders closely reviewed and proposed the elimination of nearly 55 majors or concentrations. This proposal impacts the majors of less than 15% of our current students. If subject to phase-out by the Board of Governors in late April, all current students will have two years to finish out their program or opt into a related one.

We are aware that the proposed changes may be difficult to comprehend. However, the proposals currently under discussion relate directly to what draws students to our institution, and most significantly, what will be sustainable for the future. Together with other measures, the final plan also will strengthen our accreditation, respond to the demands of our region and put us on a pathway to financial stability.

Matthew J. Wilson
Missouri Western State University