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Regents weigh in on potential challenges and priorities for UMN in 2021

Board members discussed the financial impact of COVID-19 and the impact of the pandemic on enrollment and student experiences at the University.
The Board of Regents convene for their October 2019 meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Oct. 10.
Image by Nur B. Adam
The Board of Regents convene for their October 2019 meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Oct. 10.

As the fall semester concludes, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents discussed challenges and priorities for 2021 in interviews with the Minnesota Daily.

Each year, the board is tasked with setting priorities to discuss at its meetings held several times a year. The priorities for the 2021-22 academic year will be finalized this summer.

Recovering financially from the effects of COVID-19 will be a major priority and challenge in 2021, several board members said. Others discussed enrollment numbers and the impact of the pandemic on student experiences.

“COVID is obviously still front of mind. Part of the challenge is just maintaining the University and continuing to teach but the other big challenge is how do we move forward when it’s over,” said Regent Mike Kenyanya in an email to the Daily.

“Some of our friends will still be in mourning, we will have budget deficits to address, and we will have students who haven’t had the experience we all wished they had. We’ll all have to collectively deal with that going forward.”

With the University predicting a budget shortfall of around $150 million, seeking alternative sources of revenue will also be a priority, the regents said.

“[Senior] Vice President of Finance and Operations [Myron Frans] is going to lay out where we are in terms of the financial problem that’s been created by the pandemic,” said board chair, Kendall Powell. “We are down — as most universities across the country, many of them significantly more than we are — but we are down on the income.”

As a result of these financial constraints, the cost of tuition for the upcoming academic year is also likely to be discussed.

“Recognizing that the opportunity our students are currently receiving from the University does not reflect the typical academic experience that they would be receiving, I’m interested in student feedback on that, with respect to the cost,” Regent Darrin Rosha said.
“I understand that the students were talking about requesting a reduction, and I want to understand that better and if it has merit. That’s something that I think we should consider as a board.”

Student enrollment is also a priority among board members as some campuses have faced low enrollment numbers, Kenyanya said.

“Another one of our annual priorities that is important to me is systemwide campus enrollment. Several of our campuses have ongoing enrollment struggles. The campus leaders continue to make changes and work to solve that issue every year. I think the Board needs to take more ownership of this issue,” he said in the email.

President Joan Gabel’s Systemwide Strategic Plan, which the board approved earlier this year, is used to inform the board’s priorities and agenda items, Powell said.

Advancing the measures outlined in the plan, such as improving enrollment and student wellness, will be a major priority in 2021 in addition to managing the effects of the pandemic.

“I think sort of the pandemic — we can’t escape it; we got to be ready to move. Then [we have] this super comprehensive and substantive strategic plan. How do we advance it?” Powell said.

Continuing to focus on other initiatives around the University has been difficult during the pandemic, Regent Michael Hsu said.

“We need to focus on pandemic recovery, which is mostly financial. … People are obviously sitting there trying to push whatever is in their area forward,” Hsu said. “From our perspective, there’s only one [priority]: It’s pandemic recovery. I really don’t see anything as important as trying to recover from the pandemic.”

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