BROWNWOOD—In response to “decreased resources and other difficult trends,” Howard Payne University’s board of trustees unanimously voted to eliminate 10 “underperforming” major or minor courses of study, reconfigure seven others, and cut 12 full-time faculty positions and one full-time administrative support position.
“While the university’s long-term financial standing is stable due to a strong endowment and prudent resource management as demonstrated by the board of trustees, in recent years the annual operating budget has been strained due to a range of underpopulated courses and decreased external scholarship assistance for students,” according to an official HPU statement.
The Nov. 2 vote by the HPU trustees followed similar cost-cutting action last month by the governing board of Hardin-Simmons University, another university affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Eliminated academic areas of concentration include biblical languages and cross-cultural studies in the School of Christian Studies and church music and worship in the School of Music and Fine Arts. Those areas will be merged with majors in Bible, Christian education and the Bachelor of Arts in Music degree, respectively.
Other majors or minors that will be dropped or merged with other programs include Spanish, art, journalism, music performance, piano pedagogy, forensic science and the Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree.
Other academic areas facing realignment are the Master of Business Administration and Master of Education in Sport and Wellness Leadership degree programs, along with theater, computer information systems, biology, chemistry and engineering science.
“By concentrating these actions on program areas of low enrollment, the actions were designed to be as minimally disruptive as possible while achieving needed budget reductions,” said Kyle Mize, HPU assistant vice president for communications, who noted the university has about a $20 million budget.
Impact on personnel
Not all of the academic program closures demanded personnel changes, but 12 faculty posts were eliminated, including two currently unfilled positions. HPU will provide “transition assistance” to personnel who will be leaving the university.
“This is a very painful process,” said Paul Armes, HPU interim president. “These changes are not a negative reflection on any individual employee or academic area but are simply realities we must face if we are to be responsible in our budgeting.
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“The board looked at several options. In the end, the trustees approved the most compassionate and minimalist course they felt that they could. From my perspective, their action was careful, considered and generous.”
The cutbacks followed “a lengthy evaluation process prompted by decreased resources and other difficult trends in faith-based education,” according to a statement released by the university.
“While there may be little comfort in this reality, our challenges are not unique,” Armes said. “There is simply no way for tuition-driven colleges to live beyond their means. That trajectory must change if these institutions are to move forward positively.”
In fact, the board of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene—a sister Texas Baptist educational institution—voted to cut personnel, close four Logsdon Seminary extension campuses and eliminate several other academic programs. At least 18 tenured faculty at Hardin-Simmons expressed interest in a buyout offer, and 22 staff have been offered severance packages.
In making the announcement, HSU President Eric Bruntmyer noted that “some external revenue sources are evaporating,” pointing particularly to Cooperative Program assistance through the BGCT and funds made available from the Texas Equalization Grant, a state program that provides eligible students financial assistance to help them attend private nonprofit universities.
The BGCT is eliminating pro-rata funding for all partnering universities due to a 6 percent decrease in Cooperative Program receipts. In September, the BGCT Executive Board approved a 2019 Cooperative Program budget based on $1 million less than this year’s spending plan.
“Decreased funding from the BGCT is a factor in HPU’s ongoing planning but had no bearing on the decision to make these program adjustments,” Mize said.
“Regarding any future changes to the curriculum, HPU continually evaluates its programs and services for maximum effectiveness and will, from time to time, make changes. However, no additional changes are anticipated in the near future.”