Nov 16, 2009

Public Universities Forced to Review Core Activities Following 2009 Budget Cuts

Those students turning to public universities for more affordable educational opportunities may be shocked to see how much state appropriations cuts are affecting operating budgets and possibly the quality of education offered at these institutions. A recent report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) indicates that as many as 85 percent of public universities experienced budget cuts in fiscal year 2009—half by as much as 10 percent; and 53 percent of their chief academic officers are “pessimistic” about the short term fiscal futures of their campuses. In fact, 50 percent of APLU institutions reported educational revenues declined--even with tuition and fee increases.

So what exactly does this mean? To cope with current and future state appropriations cuts, institutions are implementing or planning extensive reviews of university structures, operations, and programs including facilities operations as well as academic, research, outreach, athletic, and student support. More than half of those surveyed plan to review administrative activities, while 50 percent are reviewing academics.

Some long-term strategies being considered by hard hit universities include investing in energy savings (78 percent), increased enrollment (63 percent), and permanent changes in staffing levels for both professional and support staff (40 percent). Those institutions experiencing the largest budget reductions indicated that cuts in state appropriations were “harming” their ability to maintain academic programs and course offerings for students.

Given the current state of the economy, it’s not surprising that student enrollment at public universities for fall 2009 remained stable or increased from 2008. At the institutions with state cuts of 10 percent or more, there were larger gains in the number of entering freshmen and out-of-state undergraduates.

In this climate, students would be wise to weigh options carefully and ask lots of questions. While generally the most economical, public universities are subject to unanticipated changes in funding that could easily affect facilities maintenance, staffing, scholarships, course offerings, class size, and support services, all of which are fundamental to the overall quality of education provided.

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