Budget forum highlights impact to campus, provides timeline

As students around the country planned protests and marches to speak out about funding cuts on public college campuses yesterday, Tennessee Tech University marked the day with an open forum to discuss the budget situation here.

TTU President Bob Bell was invited by the American Association of University Professors campus chapter to participate in a question-and-answer meeting about the budget situation this spring. Bell offered, and the AAUP agreed, to open the session to the entire campus.

“This forum provides a chance for the campus administration to reach out to as many faculty as possible with the latest information regarding the budget, possible layoffs and other related matters,” said local AAUP President Andy Smith. “Hopefully for all of us, it aids in openness and transparency during what are obviously tough times.“

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FORUM:

Bell opened the forum by providing an overview of recent activities in the legislature affecting higher education in Tennessee. The Complete College Tennessee bill mandates a state shift in funding and affects the expectations of higher education in several significant ways, he said.

The higher education funding formula, which was previously based heavily on increasing enrollment, will now be driven by enrollment, retention and graduation rates. The budget impact of that formula change will likely begin in fall 2011.

The legislature is also currently debating some parts of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposed budget, which will have a profound effect on the budget cuts TTU and other universities face. The campus is preparing for both another 6 percent or 9 percent reduction as the debate continues.

The 6 percent cut recommended by Bredesen would result in total state appropriation reductions of more than 30 percent since 2008 alone, a dramatic drop that has been temporarily offset with stimulus funding and maintenance of effort support from the state. That funding will disappear by the end of next fiscal year. The most recent reductions must take place by July 1 of this year, however.

Bell also explained that campus officials only recently learned how state colleges and universities must fund Bredesen’s proposed 3 percent bonus for employees, 401k match and TCRS insurance supplements. TTU and other schools will be expected to cover the costs out of the maintenance of effort funding provided by the state.

The maintenance of effort money, funding provided by the state to keep higher ed appropriations at the same level they were in 2008 in order to receive federal stimulus dollars, was expected to cover other projects, including about $500,000 for the IT infrastructure project, through 2012. Because that money must now be allocated to cover benefits, it will no longer be available for other uses beginning in July.

Claire Stinson, vice president for Business and Planning, described how the state appropriations to TTU would be impacted. State funds would drop from $49.2 million in 2007-08 to $34.8 million in July if reductions are limited to 6 percent, or $33 million if 9 percent reductions are required.

She provided a timeline that demonstrates just how ambiguous the funding picture is and will continue to be for the next several months. First, the university was already required to develop and submit a three-year financial plan without knowing how much state appropriations may be allocated, how much tuition would change and how much enrollment would grow.

In order to develop that three-year plan, the university built a model that predicts a 5 percent tuition increase and a 1.8 percent enrollment increase. Any changes greater or less than those predictions will impact the budget, she stressed. Important dates that will affect the budget include:

  • This week and next: Campus units will continue to identify and finalize reductions based on the 6 and 9 percent scenarios.
  • May 1: Proposed budgets are due to the Tennessee Board of Regents, but state appropriations will remain unknown at that point.
  • Sometime in May or June: The state legislature will likely pass a state budget, allocating appropriations for higher education.
  • June 24-25: The TBR meets and will set tuition rates. If a tuition increase is set higher than 5 percent, TTU’s budget will benefit. If it is set lower than 5 percent, more reductions will be required.
  • July 1: If additional reductions are required, campus officials will identify cuts.
  • September: As enrollment numbers are finalized, officials will know whether additional funds will be available (if growth is greater than 1.8 percent) or more cuts are required.
  • October: A full and final budget picture will be available.

Questions submitted through the AAUP in advance were also addressed in the forum. In response to an inquiry about the possibility of another buyout plan, Bell made it clear that TTU will not offer any additional buyouts.

Jack Armistead, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, explained the issues and concerns of higher education officials statewide about the new transfer requirements included in the Complete College Tennessee Act passed by the legislature. Community colleges will draft a plan and universities will review and provide input. An agreement is expected by October.

Armistead also addressed a misunderstanding about funding for the Learning Villages. The budget for the village concept is provided through student fees and auxiliary money, he said. The campus would be unable to use funds raised through those sources on maintenance in other areas and vice versa, he stressed.

In response to a question about the Academic Development Program changes, Armistead said that four-year campuses must cease offering ADP courses by 2012. A committee on campus is meeting weekly to work out a plan for TTU. The plan is to do everything possible to preserve the tenure careers of faculty, he stressed.

Bell addressed questions about personnel cuts and stressed that no positions and groups are protected. “Everything is on the table,” he said. He also corrected a misconception about past pay raises and stressed that inversions would be addressed when funds are available.

Bell also spoke about a plan in the College of Engineering to make significant strides in reducing the level of support required for the centers of excellence. Even though changes will be made, he stressed that campus and state officials recognize the significance of the research being conducted at the centers.

“Our primary goal is to continue providing the excellent educational value that our students expect,” Bell said before the meeting. “They come to TTU to learn from exceptional faculty and to earn a degree that will prepare them for success. Our commitment to that goal will not waver.”

 

 

 

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