Thursday, February 3, 2011

Budget Season Means Hefty State Cuts to Higher Ed: What institutional leaders are saying to lessen the blow

The recession has left states bogged down by daunting deficits. With budget deadlines nearing, higher ed leaders in money-crunched states have been actively trying to persuade against cuts that could be detrimental to their institutions.

In the famously broke California, where the budget deficit has reached $25.4 billion, higher education is facing a proposed $1.4 billion cut by newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown. The California State University and University of California systems would each lose $500 million in state support and the state’s community colleges would lose $400 million. Robert Turnage, vice chancellor for budget at CSU, says the proposed budget would bring the institution’s state funding to a level that is 23 percent lower than it was in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, or a decline of $680 million.

“Chancellor [Charles Reed] and I met with Jerry Brown as he was putting his administration together and preparing for the transition,” explains Turnage. “I don’t think we were under illusions of the nature of the state’s fiscal problems when we met with him, but I think we’ve done our best to make him understand that there are consequences if there are cuts. We are going to have to look at a lot of things that people will find painful,” such as cutting programs and limiting enrollment.

In Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval hasn’t said how much he would reduce state spending for higher education, but Daniel Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, says he’s expecting “very substantial double-digit reductions.”

“We have tried to point out very clearly that investing in higher education produces a tangible return to the state that shouldn’t be overlooked,” he says.

The Nevada system suffered significantly in the past three years, losing 20 percent in general fund appropriations. During the first round of cuts, the system deferred maintenance, tightened up on administrative positions, and enacted a salary freeze. Klaich says that by the most recent round of cuts, the system was forced to close several research centers and terminate programs and professors, including, in some situations, tenured professors.

“We want to first let everyone know that the system is in service to the state and for the state,” says Klaich. “We want people to know that the cuts, to this point, have been impactful, have changed the institutions, have changed lives, and have changed the abilities of students to naturally progress toward degrees.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a graduate of The Ohio State University, isn’t ruling out reducing higher ed spending to help with the state’s $8 billion budget deficit. Ohio State CFO Geoff Chatas says the $400 million in state funding each year—less than 10 percent of the university’s total budget—is “incredibly important” for helping the university grow, and his arguments against reduced spending mirror those of higher ed leaders in other states.

“The university is an economic growth engine for the state of Ohio,” he says. “We are one of the largest creators of jobs in the state, we’re one of the largest employers, and we touch every part of the state with students from every county.”

Beyond pointing out the economic boosts higher ed provides, Washington’s Council of Presidents—a coalition of the six four-year baccalaureate degree-granting institutions in the state—is teaming up to present a consistent message to Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislators.

“I think even in these times of very difficult budget discussions with the state, we are trying to say that it’s important to get a higher education,” says Phyllis Wise, interim president of the University of Washington. Her state is facing a 4.2 percent reduction in higher education spending, as well as salary cuts and pension limits where making up the difference to employees will prove costly to institutions.

—Kristen Domonell

Originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of University Business

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