Mar 7, 2011

How Public Colleges and Universities are dealing with the Economic Downturn

A survey of college and university presidents released last week by Inside Higher Ed in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Council on Education confirms what seems fairly obvious—money is tight and colleges are working to bring budget deficits under control.

To probe these challenges, a total of 956 campus “chief executives,” representing postsecondary institutions of all kinds were asked to provide views on how their institutions have navigated the current economic downturn, the biggest problems they face, and the strategies they have used—effective or not.

The resulting report entitled, “Presidential Perspectives,” shows that among a list of “most important areas/challenges” facing public institutions, budget shortfalls (62 percent) and changes in state support (42.6 percent) far outweighed all other answers.

And the strategies employed to address these problems, while not particularly creative, fall along familiar lines and are similar to those in use at many local public institutions including the University of Virginia, where tuition went up, the size of the undergraduate student body is increasing, and additional fees are being tacked on.

According to the report, UVa appears fairly representative in its approach to closing the budget gap. In fact, the following are among the strategies found to be most frequently used by public colleges and universities to address the financial consequences of the economic downturn:
  • Budget cuts targeting selected administrative operations and services (63.6 percent)
  • Increased tuition by 5 percent or more for 2010-11 (48.8 percent)
  • Budget cuts targeting selected academic programs and activities (44.2 percent)
  • Increased proportion of part-time (vs. full-time) faculty (43.3 percent)
  • Raised student fees for campus resources and services (38 percent)
  • Hiring freeze for academic programs/departments (27.5 percent)
  • Budget cuts targeting selected student services (26.8 percent)
  • Budget cuts targeting varsity athletic programs (15.4 percent)

So what does all this mean? It means that before signing on, students shouldn’t hesitate to ask the hard questions concerning how budget cuts will affect the programs and services they care most about.

What’s here today could very easily be gone tomorrow.

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