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Wichita State President Jay Golden: Enrollment Is Up, But Budget Concerns Remain

Stephan Bisaha

Jay Golden started 2020 with a new job as president of Wichita State University.

Three months later he announced the school was going remote-only because of the cornavirus. 

Since then, classes have been entirely online and educators worried students wouldn't want to enroll in college during a pandemic. But Golden says more students have signed up than last year. They're moving into the dorms and getting ready for in-person classes to start again on Monday. 

Jay Golden spoke with KMUW's Stephan Bisaha for The Range about the fall semester, the school's future, and angering donors after removing Ivanka Trump's role as WSU Tech's graduation headline speaker

Reopening campus safely

As someone who has a daughter that's going to be a senior in college this year, I can relate very well with concerns that parents are having, and we have those discussions. But we're excited. We're certainly going to be continuing to monitor and we will take it day to day.

We also have had the opportunity to implement and install the personal protective equipment that's required, developed the contracts and the processes so we can do testing. For instance, we are testing every student as they move into the dorms, as well as all the staff that are associated with the dorms. We have testing availability so we will be providing a COVID test to any of our faculty, staff, or students that requires it, at no charge for them.

I believe, and I think many of my colleagues across the country believe, that campuses are actually one of the safer environments. We have the capabilities on campus. We have the health services available for our students. My concern, obviously, is that we are part of a larger community and students or whomever can go off and do things they shouldn't be doing at this period of time. And so we're trying to constantly remind them of their responsibilities.

Enrollment up

We were anticipating approximately a 3% decline in enrollment as compared to last year. And many of the institutions in our state and around the region are down 8 to 10%. And it seems as I talked to my colleagues across the country, the further east and more expensive institutions, some have drop-offs in up to 40%, and those are four-year institutions.

As of this morning, we're about 2% above last year. Now, certainly things could change drastically. And we report the 20th day of the semester and our semester starts Monday.

Our credit hours are about even, which is a very positive sign for us. And I think being the Kansas urban-based research university has a lot to do with that. Being in a metropolitan area like Wichita helps. I think our affordability is a big part of that. When we look at Wichita State University compared to other research universities, not just in the state [but] in the region and across the country, we are one of the most affordable, while still giving a very impactful education through applied learning and the opportunities that our students receive.


While enrollment is up for this current fiscal year 2021, which started July 1, we have other factors. Certainly we've had to expend a lot of money for going digital and the support for digital, both personnel and the equipment and the computers for our students hotspots for our students. I talked earlier about the personal protective equipment, both for the persons, as well as plexiglass and facilities and cleaning. Those are incredible expenses. We had to refund housing, parking, those types of things.

We were working on the premise of a deficit. We have been aggressively managing it for this year. It was important for me as leadership to kind of show the way. So all of my leadership team, the deans and many of the head coaches in our athletic department, took either furloughs or reduced salary.

We haven't had to do that for the rest of the campus. Could that be an option? Yes, but for, as I've been telling our faculty and staff, for fiscal year 2021, unless there's a drastic change by the state, if they hold steady with where we're at, we're going to be a difficult situation, but manageable.

Fiscal year 2022, that's gonna be a very rough, rough year for Wichita State, but for all institutions in Kansas, and, I would say, all institutions in higher education across the country, as we really gauge and try to monitor what the impacts are to state budgets. Right now we're expecting some significant reductions.

I've asked for our campus to come together as a community, as well as I'm reaching out to leaders in industry within greater Wichita to work with me as we think through what are the appropriate strategies, not only to plan for a budget reduction, but look at innovative entrepreneurial ways to potentially bring in new sources of revenues and to try to mitigate some of the impacts that we'll be facing.

Plans for fall sports

That changes every day.

I think everyone really wants to understand what were the driving decisions for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Is there information that they have, or they're using that maybe we don't have? We are meeting as presidents, as well as with the conference, multiple times a week, having these discussions. So right now the plan is the student athletes have been back.

Some of the fall sports have been pushed back that might bleed into 2021. Tennis is in a good example. And so we're just watching and evaluating the underlying consideration for all of this is going to be the health and safety of our student athletes.

On removing Ivanka Trump from WSU Tech’s main commencement

A leader makes a decision and has to make a decision in awkward times and you go with that.

There are a variety of constituents of an institution. Donors are a big part of it. Our alumni are part of it. Our students, faculty, staff, our community here in Wichita. And, you know, we live in a very divisive time right now. We had racial unrest at the time. We also had DACA uncertainty. We have elections coming up and, of course, we had a pandemic and we're in the middle of a pandemic and people without jobs. Very difficult times for society at large and certain types of decisions are going to trigger a certain population on either end to be upset and to vent their pent up anger and that's to be understood and appreciate it.

I certainly reached out to many of the donors. I spent some considerable time, a lot of letters, a lot of personal phone calls and Zooms. And for the most part, I would say the majority of it was okay. I now understand the full story of what was, what happened. I may or may not agree with your decision, but let's move forward.

Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @stevebisaha.