Sunday, January 31, 2010

UNO Vice Chancellor says great budget challenges yet to come

The University of Nebraska at Omaha's Jan. 28 budget forum at the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom again shed little light on the current financial shortfall, but did foreshadow what could be an even greater challenge in the future. 
Citing a quote from State Sen. Mike Flood at the Jan. 22 Board of Regents meeting, Vice Chancellor Bill Conley said the shortfall for the next biennium—2011-2013—could be high as $1 billion. 
To compare, the shortfall addressed at the last special legislative session was $334 million, with $8.8 million university-wide in the current year and $15.3 in the next year.
This figure-more than triple the previous shortfall-depends on such variables as state tax receipts, student enrollment, tuition increases or any future stimulus funding.
Despite an even greater fiscal storm looming on the horizon, Chancellor John Christensen, who led the forum, said any actions to balance the $4.3 million 2010-2011 shortfall are still uncertain. However, Christensen did express interest in a potential tuition increase.
"If the state continues to decrease support, there is no way, even with our commitment to access, that we are going to be able to maintain a 4 percent tuition level," Christensen said.
The Board of Regents will reach a decision on tuition in June 2010.
With the decrease in state funding, Conley said the tuition increase is still not enough to offset the recently approved 5.84 percent salary increase for all UNO faculty who belong to American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the pending 1.5 percent increase for all non-faculty.
Of the 5.84 percent, 4.5 percent was effective retroactive to July 1, 2009 and the remaining 1.34 percent increase will take effect on July 1, 2010.
He said for every 1 percent increase in tuition, UNO brings in $333, 000, but if the 1.5 percent non-faculty salary increase is authorized, UNO will spend an additional $450,000 for every 1 percent increase, a difference of $117,000.
The 1.5 percent non-faculty salary raise for next year is another unknown is the pending, which awaits authorization from the Board of Regents, and is something neither Christensen nor his colleagues could offer any opinion.
Another unknown is the pending 1.5 percent non-faculty salary raise for next year, which awaits authorization from the Board of Regents. Neither Christensen nor his colleagues could offer any opinion. 
"We simply don't know the answer to that question at this point in time," Christensen said.
He did reference Governor Dave Heineman's statement that said certain groups of state employees will not see raises and that state agencies are encouraged to look into the issue, but said there has not been a mandate to do so.
Despite the gloomy picture painted throughout the majority of the forum, there was one bright spot. Both Christensen and Conley said enrollment for the fall was higher than targeted, and enrollment for the spring has also remained strong.
Christensen also said he and others had contacted UNO alumni located in other states in an effort to organize increased recruitment of out-of-state students. 
He said that in California, which is already the sixth largest representative of out-of-state-students, there are thousands of students who have been blocked out of in-state enrollment because of their own state's devastating financial crisis.  
"But we don't have a lot of money to throw at out-of-state recruitment," Christensen said.
Christensen and Conley, joined by Senior Vice Chancellor Terry Hynes, asked the approximately 125 students, staff and members of faculty and the community who attended the forum to "be patient," and said they were open to all ideas and suggestions, emphasizing the desire to keep the decision-making process as decentralized as possible. 
None of the speakers at the forum offered any blueprint, but Hynes said there would be "expectations" with the decentralizing of the process. 
When asked to elaborate, Hynes said she would ask deans to take a "hard look at faculty- work load" or cutting under-enrolled classes, but made it a point to stress the
decentralization of the process.
Christensen said he is open to any suggestions made to the Board of Regents. 
He said there have already been some who propose health coverage-furlough tradeoff.
An example of this would be an employee retaining full health coverage but volunteering to work at a rate 20 percent less than the current salary. However, any AAUP faculty cannot do this independently, as the AAUP as a whole makes any decisions on furloughs.
Echoing the lack of a coherent strategy, Christensen said the process would stay decentralized "as long as it made sense."
"We will continue to throw things at the wall and see what sticks," he said.