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At Keene State, it's about downsizing 'with a heart'

Sunday News Correspondent

January 20. 2018 5:28PM
Keene State's interim president, Melinda Treadwell, in her office in December 2017, said Friday the college continues to downsize with a heart. (Meghan Pierce/Sunday News Correspondent)

KEENE — “Trying to downsize with a heart,” Keene State College has extended the application period by two weeks for voluntary buyouts of staff and faculty, part of a multi-measure effort to balance the college’s budget this year and in the coming year, interim President Melinda Treadwell said Friday.

The new deadline is now Jan. 31 with voluntary separation plans for employees of the college now offered to all employees with at least one year of employment. The initial application process was offered to staff with five years or more and faculty with six years or more.

By the Jan. 12 deadline the college had received 29 applications, Treadwell said on Friday.

In a letter sent to staff and faculty on Thursday, Treadwell announced that those 29 voluntary separation applications — 25 from staff and four from faculty — had been accepted by her and the college cabinet.

In November, Treadwell announced a financial restructuring of the college that would first offer the voluntary separation plans as a means of cutting staff and faculty.

Keene State has been experiencing dropping enrollments — from 4,650 in the 2014 school year to 4,070 last year, according to data the college provided in September.

The 2017-2018 budget has a $2.4 million shortfall and the 2018-2019 budget is expected to have a $5.5 million shortfall. Treadwell said Friday the college is reviewing all aspects of how the college is structured to reduce spending to avoid the shortfalls.

“We’re a bit too big based on our enrollment,” Treadwell said.

Keene State employs 550 people — 213 full-time faculty with benefits, 284 full-time staff with benefits and 53 part-time staff with benefits.

Treadwell told staff and faculty in November that voluntary separation packages would be available through Jan. 12.

Treadwell said Friday those taking the college up on the buyouts have various reasons — from plans to retire early, to a desire to change careers, to time off to care for an elderly parent, or even a move to another area because of family or relationship changes.

By first offering the option of a buyout to employees whose circumstances in life may be changing, it is a way of downsizing with heart, she said, and actually has been received positively, which Treadwell is grateful for, as a way for those needing to make changes to do so.

“This gives them a financial bridge to carry them to the next step,” Treadwell said.

Strategic layoffs may be coming in the future, Treadwell said, as all departments and programs are being reviewed. A workforce analysis is currently underway. But in an effort to boost participation in the voluntary buyout the deadline was extended and eligibility was made to include newer staff and faculty. Part of the reason for the extension was the interest expressed by some employees in that employment range, she said. 

Treadwell added that Keene State wants to provide the best experience for its students and direct the resources to the needed department and programs.

“The voluntary buyouts are just a part of this,” Treadwell said.

Keene State has also looked at what employers are looking for in potential hires to create new majors and minors including its newly unveiled “first-in-the-nation” bachelor’s degree in construction safety sciences, Treadwell said. “We built it with the General Construction Society’s in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.”

“It’s a hard part of higher education, to think about the business perspective, but it’s essential,” Treadwell said.

It’s about being, “more nimble, but not changing who we are,” Treadwell said.

Keene State is looking for new ways to collaborate and innovate with other institutions in the New Hampshire University System — Granite State, Plymouth University and UNH — to find ways to share resources and reduce redundancies in what these state’s colleges and universities offer.

Nothing has been decided, but a collaboration could include a Keene State college student studying for a semester or two at one of these institutions to take certain courses, eliminating the need for that course at Keene State.

While it’s hard to make the cuts, which may include layoffs, Keene State is keeping its focus on providing the best possible experience for Keene State College students to best prepare them for the world and the workforce, she said, and because of that it is an exciting and bold time for the campus.

“This is not a campus in peril,” Treadwell said. “We’re building new programs. We’re launching new programs.”

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