President Diacon Talks University Finances in Latest Talking With Todd

Kent State University will redesign many aspects of the university’s operations and organization as it undertakes careful belt-tightening over the next four years, President Todd Diacon shared Feb. 13 during his monthly Talking With Todd webcast.

“We know where we need to go,” Diacon told 820 faculty and staff members in the live audience. “We’re going to get there. We’re going to thrive while others around us struggle,” he added.

The changes, Diacon said, are necessitated by several factors, including enrollment decline, anticipated flat state financial support for the foreseeable future and inflation, all of which are taking place in the context of a demographic shift that has left a shortage of traditional-aged undergraduate learners in Ohio. The same challenges confront nearly all other public universities and private schools in the state.

Kent State remains committed to delivering balanced budgets, Diacon noted, adding that in five of the last six budget years, Kent State has reduced expenditures to do so.

“When we look at our models and our information, at that point for Fiscal Year ’28, which I mentioned begins in July of 2027, we should have reduced our spending enough and sufficiently to be free of further reductions, at least for a while,” Diacon said.

Diacon explained that three categories comprise 75% of the total university budget: salaries, benefits and student aid. Kent State’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. For this current fiscal year, the university reduced its projected expenditure by $18.4 million, or 3% of the university’s annual budget. For Fiscal 2025, which begins July 1, 2024, Kent State will need to reduce spending by $17 million. The reduction will be $7.8 million in Fiscal Year 2026, $17.3 million in Fiscal Year 2027 and $26 million in Fiscal Year 2028.

“We are not asking people to do more with less,” he said. “We will have to do things differently, not more with less but do things differently.”

In order to make balanced budgets going forward, Diacon said the university is already rolling out various changes. These include reorganizing leadership and administrative expenses at the Regional Campuses, combining administrative units and reducing the number of employees, mostly through attrition, by July 1, 2027. Attrition happens when an employee leaves and their position is not replaced with a new employee, thus reducing the overall employee headcount.

Diacon also said that benefits, including tuition waivers, will likely need to change. Some viewers of the live meeting submitted questions about the possibility of changes to the tuition waiver, voicing their concerns. The president emphasized that because Kent State is not running a deficit, there’s time to make careful, well-considered decisions informed by meaningful conversation with the university community.

“The generosity of our benefits is one of the things that makes us an employer of choice, and we know that,” Diacon said. “And we are committed to being a great employer and being a community committed to a culture of belonging. Certainly, benefits play a role in that. At the same time, we have to deliver balanced budgets and live within our means, and the current level of benefits will have to change between now and July 1, 2027, for us to meet our balanced budgets year in and year out.”

Members of the Kent State community expressed their gratitude to Diacon for his transparency and for explaining how the university plans to address the challenges facing higher education institutions. One viewer also noted that Ohio lost so many college presidents last year and asked if the university community should be worried about Diacon leaving.

“I don’t plan on leaving, and I certainly plan on seeing us through these next fiscal years that I have just laid out,” Diacon said. “I had an Ohio public university presidents Teams call today, and I think there were four new presidents. So yeah, that’s interesting how that works. I mean I’m one of the old-timers, and I started in ’19.”

Watch the Feb. 13 edition of Talking With Todd.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 14, 2024 08:32 AM
Updated: Wednesday, February 14, 2024 12:46 PM
Emily Vincent