KU payroll data shows decrease of more than 1,200 employees throughout pandemic; a look at spring enrollment numbers

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

Activity has picked up on the University of Kansas campus in the spring semester compared to the fall, but there’s been no such boost when it comes to university employee numbers, the latest figures show.

KU payroll data acquired by the Journal-World shows that 8,519 employees on the Lawrence campus received paychecks from KU at the end of February. One year earlier, during the same pay period and just prior to the start of the pandemic, 9,725 employees received paychecks from KU. That’s a difference of 1,206 employees, or a 12.4% decrease.

The Journal-World has been looking into employee headcount numbers because KU has not yet released information about how or whether its budget shortfall has affected the number of employees on campus in 2021. The university is still working through its budget decisions.

Previously, the Journal-World reported KU’s official employee headcount data, which is updated each October. That data showed that KU had 9,972 employees in 2019 and 8,564 employees in 2020, a difference of 1,408, or 14.1%.

The Journal-World requested March on-cycle payroll numbers from KU through the Kansas Open Records Act in an attempt to receive more recent employee headcount data and to determine if there had been any bounce back since the October employee numbers were compiled. Though the Journal-World requested March payroll numbers, KU provided the Journal-World with payroll numbers for pay periods ending on Feb. 20, 2021 and Feb. 22, 2020.

The rate of decline over a year from the October employee headcount data — about 14.1% — and the February payroll data — about 12.4% — were similar. Signs of a bounce back were hard to find.

That may partially be because new spring enrollment numbers haven’t shown much of a bounce back, either. The university updated those figures last month, and they show that spring enrollment is down by a slightly larger percentage than fall enrollment was this school year. Spring enrollment data for the Lawrence campus showed a 3.8% decline compared to spring enrollment data from 2020.

In contrast, fall 2020 enrollment at KU was down 3.1% compared to fall 2019 enrollment. In other words, improvements on the pandemic front didn’t slow KU’s enrollment decline in the spring semester.

The latest employment numbers from KU are an imperfect measurement of how many jobs have been lost at KU during the pandemic. KU officials, though, have not released numbers detailing the number of layoffs or the departments in which they have occurred. The total payroll numbers give some insight into the overall employment picture at the university.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, spokesperson for KU, however, said there were a number of caveats to consider in comparing the number of paychecks from February of 2020 and February of 2021.

Barcomb-Peterson said employment numbers constantly change at KU for reasons other than layoffs, such as employees who choose to leave the university or who have been given notice of nonreappointment, probationary dismissal or dismissal for cause. She also said the on-cycle payroll can be an inaccurate reflection of total pay — “for example, timesheets submitted late that are in turn paid in the off-cycle.”

As the Journal-World has reported, hundreds of individual departments across campus have been working on their next fiscal year budgets, and the Provost’s Office asked leaders to examine what a 5%, 10%, or 15% cut would mean for their department or unit.

On Tuesday, Barcomb-Peterson said that deans and other leaders received information about their fiscal year 2022 budgets from the Office of the Provost last week “and will be making decisions for their areas in the weeks ahead.”

Barcomb-Peterson said in a follow-up email that leaders had been told how much of a cut they would have to make and that the size of the cuts would differ from school to school or major to major. She said KU was planning to share more information about the cuts in the coming days.

In the fall, KU is expected to return to in-person classes and services “as much as possible,” provost Barbara Bichelmeyer announced in February. The campus is expected to operate at or near its pre-pandemic capacity for in-person classes, but classes will be scheduled earlier and later than normal to reduce the number of people on campus at one time.

Here’s a look at spring enrollment numbers on the Lawrence campus for the last 10 years:

• 2021: 21,031

• 2020: 21,869

• 2019: 22,078

• 2018: 22,234

• 2017: 22,379

• 2016: 22,285

• 2015: 21,739

• 2014: 21,758

• 2013: 21,733

• 2012: 22,421


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