SALEM — A total of 82 employees have accepted voluntary buyouts at Salem State University as the school continues to deal with the nationwide trend of declining college enrollment.

Salem State University President John Keenan said the buyouts will save $6.6 million per year and help to “right size” the school, where enrollment has dropped from 10,000 to 8,000 students over the last decade.

Keenan said Salem State plans to fill about one-third of the vacated positions, for a net reduction of about 50.

“This is nothing but responsible fiscal stewardship and disciplined personnel management,” Keenan said. “It will make sure we are in a position of strength going forward.”

The buyouts, called the “voluntary separation incentive program,” offered one year’s salary for employees with 25 years or more of service and 80% of salary for people with 10 to 25 years. All three unions representing Salem State employees agreed to the program.

A total of 22 faculty members accepted the buyouts, according to James Gubbins, an assistant professor at Salem State who is president of the university’s Massachusetts State College Association chapter. The other buyouts were spread about evenly among administrators and other staff, school officials said.

Gubbins, who did not take a buyout, said he supported the program because it would benefit people who are close to retirement. He said the reductions, which will bring the total number of faculty to about 320, should not hurt the quality of education at Salem State.

“It’s less than 10 percent of the faculty, and a number of these people would probably be retiring in the next couple of years anyway,” Gubbins said. “Except for a couple of departments, which will need to scramble to fill key roles, I don’t think there’s going to be a huge impact.”

Gubbins, however, added that the school is also cutting several class sections, leaving students with fewer choices.

“The cutting of class sections is going to be hard on students,” he said. “Some students will have to be very careful because some courses might be offered once a year instead of twice a year, so if you want to graduate you’ve got to take that class when it comes up.”

Keenan said the 82 buyouts “hit the target” that the school had set when it announced the program earlier this year. The jobs that will be refilled will be those that “support academic excellence and student success,” he said. 

“Our priority remains making sure our students are able to succeed inside the classroom and outside the classroom,” Keenan said.

Salem State’s graduation rate rose 6% in 2018, to 58%. The graduation rate has increased by 21 percentage points over the last 11 years, putting Salem State in the top 7% of four-year colleges nationwide when it comes to graduation rate increases, according to the school. 

Keenan said the reductions will not impact the college’s plan to improve its science labs. He said the school will submit a proposal to the state to fund the project.

“Health care studies is a growing department and is the largest workforce need in the region,” he said. “Those are areas we need to make investments in and we intend to do that.”

Keenan said colleges across the country are dealing with a decline in college-age students, and are anticipating a further drop around 2025 based on a lower birth rate as a result of the recession of 2008.

“This is positioning ourselves to be able to handle that and be sustainable and viable going forward,” he said.

Gubbins, the union head, said most of the professors who are taking the buyout will be leaving at the end of the upcoming fall semester. He said Salem State will still deliver a “great education” despite the reduction in faculty.

“You’ve still got relatively small class sizes and the vast majority of classes are taught by full-time professors,” he said.

Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@gloucestertimes.com

Recommended for you