U bucks national trend, sheds jobs

Since 2008, early retirement has helped cut the systemwide workforce by 2.56 percent.

Graison Hensley Chapman

While colleges nationwide look to expand their workforce, posting more jobs last year than any time since 2005, the University of Minnesota has cut back.

After a four-year increase ended in 2008, the number of jobs University systemwide has fallen 2.56 percent to 25,307, helped by early retirement and academic reorganization, human resources representative Lori Ann Vicich said.

“There are some harsh realities here at the University,” said Vicich.

But because state funding to the University has declined, Vicich said there is little else to do except to focus on preventing as many unwanted job losses as possible.

The specter of almost-certain cuts from the Legislature makes the prospect of softening that trend unlikely.

Speaking at a University-sponsored rally at the Capitol yesterday, University President Bob Bruininks referenced that danger. If the school faced a proposed 15 percent budget cut, he said, the University would have to eliminate 1,700 jobs.

“There is a trade-off if these trends continue,” said Vicich.

The funding picture is similar nationwide. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 44 states and the District of Columbia “are projecting budget shortfalls totaling $125 billion for fiscal year 2012.”

But the response by other universities has not been the same. From 2008 to 2009, total higher education job postings nationwide rose 2.4 percent; the following year it rose 3.2 percent, according to the report released last week by the online job board HigherEdJobs.

The number of advertisements for those postings rose 44 percent in 2010, compared to a 27 percent decline in the previous year.

Human resources professor John Budd, who also directs the Carlson School of ManagementâÄôs Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies, said that the explanation for the rise in hiring activity is “not surprising”: university enrollment is increasing.

“Higher education is very labor intensive,” he said. “You canâÄôt buy machines to teach more students.”

Budd added that compared to enrollment, “hiring still seems pretty modest.”

The report also said that, on average, colleges had returned to hiring more administrative staff, “perhaps filling positions they had allowed to remain vacant during the recession.”

Faculty makes up about one-sixth of University employees systemwide. In 2010, the faculty shrank by two positions, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.

Budd said that some administrative hiring could increase the number of students taught.

“If you can hire support staff to do some things that faculty had been doing, which frees faculty up to be able to do more of their core responsibilities, then that can be a cost-effective way to be able to serve more students,” he said.

In the meantime, Vicich said, “workforce projections going forward are really dependent on what happens during the current legislative session.”