Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Update on the university budget

Over the past several weeks I’ve met with literally hundreds of faculty, staff and students to talk about the UW-Eau Claire budget. For those of you unable to join me at one of our campus forums, I’d like to share what we discussed and encourage you to watch the video of our presentation.

Our current budget situation presents us with a challenge as a university community. Due to an unprecedented two-year freeze in student tuition — including the Blugold Commitment — reductions in our state allocation and changes in the number of enrolled students this year, we currently have a structural deficit of $3.1 million. If our spending and enrollment remain at the current level, our deficit will grow to about $4.5 million by June 2015. Our immediate challenge is to eliminate that deficit over the next two years through a combination of revenue growth (increasing the number of enrolled students through recruitment and retention) and a reduction in our expenses.

You can see a picture of our current budget in the budget calculator we have created to help us address this challenge. The calculator outlines all the major contributors to our revenue (state appropriation, tuition, enrollment levels, etc.) and our expenses (faculty and staff salaries, operating budgets and benefits). Using the calculator we can determine what changes to any or all of these contributors will help us strengthen our financial position.

Currently the vice chancellors are working with our deans, chairs and directors to continue conversations with faculty and staff and to develop a range of strategies that will enable us to meet this challenge. Too often institutions look to quick fixes to get over a budget gap as painlessly as possible. They make across-the-board cuts or nibble around the edges in the hope that if they just hang on, things will change. That strategy puts a Band-Aid on a problem but it leaves the university weaker.

In the coming months, we must be innovative and make some difficult choices. As positions become vacant, they may not be filled. We must look for ways to consolidate programs and services or eliminate duplication across campus. We can enhance our attractiveness to students by creating a program array that responds to student needs and demand. And we can continue to refine our curricular requirements to help our students graduate sooner. I invite you to become involved in these conversations and encourage you to work with your chair or director as together we create an even stronger UW-Eau Claire.

I believe that we can become a stronger university through this challenge, if we take the longer view. This campus community has a long history of innovation on which we will draw and the collective creativity to challenge ourselves to not only eliminate our deficit over the next two years but also position ourselves to improve compensation for faculty and staff, invest in new opportunities AND continue to serve our students with excellence.

I welcome the exchange of ideas that the coming months will bring, and I will continue to provide you with information about our budget and our progress. Please check my website for current resources and new information as it becomes available.