UM considers plan in case of budget cuts - Montana Kaimin: News

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Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:59 pm | Updated: 3:26 pm, Fri Mar 1, 2013.

Departments across the University of Montana could possibly feel a financial pinch beginning July 1, depending on the outcome of current state legislation and spring student enrollment numbers. 

"We had some (budget) reductions in the fall – one could expect we’d be talking about some coming up," Vice President of Integrated Communications Peggy Kuhr said.

Enrollment was down in the fall, Kuhr said, and if it continues to drop additional cuts may be necessary. However, spring enrollment numbers will not be available until next week.

“We have a very big graduating class expected for May,” Kuhr said. “So if you have a lot of people who are going to be done, caution is necessary when looking ahead to fiscal (year 2014).”

Universities across the state are waiting on legislation regarding what type of funding the Montana University System will receive.  The waiting game will continue until later this spring, and any changes will impact the coming fall semester.

Governor Steve Bullock, the Montana University System and multiple legislative members support the College Affordability Plan (CAP) in principle, according to Kuhr.

CAP would freeze tuition if the Legislature funds “certain inflationary education costs” as well as any state employee pay plan passed into law, according to the MUS website.

Last week the MUS and budget subcommittee announced a plan to tie a portion of state funding to performance standards, such as degree completion.  

While waiting for these two components to unfold, Kuhr said the school is preparing for all possible outcomes.

“We need to look at all those uncertainties such as enrollment and the legislature,” Kuhr said. “If everything went our way, what are we looking at, and if things don’t go our way, what would we be looking at?”

Two University committees come into play when forming the UM budget every year. The Planning Committee forms initiatives and strategic plans while assessing the budget. The Budget Committee supplies recommendations after evaluating the numbers and revenue UM expects. 

If cuts must be made, ASUM Vice President Bryn Hagfors said he would represent the student voice within the Planning Committee.

“I think it’s highly important that the University keeps its core mission in mind: to provide a high quality education and service to students,” Hagfors said. “There’s a lot that the University does that falls within that category, and there are some that can be a little bit in the grey area so I would really encourage focusing financial efforts.”

Hagfors also said he will keep students informed if cuts have to be made.

James McKusick, the dean of the Davidson Honors College, said preparing for budget cuts is not new.

“A prudent budget manager will always be thinking about contingencies, both on the upside and the downside,” he said. “Quite honestly, we don’t have a specific list of things that we would cut, but we have a strong sense of our unit priorities.”

McKusick said cuts or not, all UM colleges are committed to delivering the best possible educational experience for students of all majors. Maintaining current curriculum would be priority, he said.

Another priority for the honors college is the full-time staff.

“The honors college is not thinking about laying off our permanent employees,” McKusick said. “We’re just not going to go there because we care about our people.”

McKusick said students would be informed of cuts if they would impact anything the college has currently committed to, though he said that has never happened in his eight years with the DHC.

Provost Perry Brown said that while there is no way to tell if the University will have to make cuts, active measures are being taken to reduce any chances.  

“The core of our thinking is to protect our academics and minimize the effects,” Brown said. “But the whole point is the University is doing a lot of work to try to avoid this.”

Brown said recruiting efforts and retention programs were stepped up to increase and maintain enrollment at the University.   

“The bottom line is to continue to help students be successful,” Brown said.

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