Commerce – With cuts to higher education in Texas looming large this legislative session, colleges and universities throughout the state struggle to cope with what they'll have to do without to not only survive, but continue to grow.
Texas A&M University-Commerce faculty and staff were presented with a grim budget proposal for the next biennium during Thursday's University Community Update.
With the uncertainty of when the Texas Legislature will pass its budget bill, the University is forced to move forward with its own budget cuts, assuming their calculations fall in line with that of the State.
Legislators are expected to take most of the session to pass the bill, but constitutionally they don't have to until the end of August.
"We can't wait this long to begin planning for next year. I think that's obvious," said President Dan Jones. "So for planning purposes, we're going to assume a budget reduction of 12 percent for the coming biennium. That's a planning number. It's realistic. It could be more, it could be less."
The figure amounts to about an $8.6 million reduction, according Jones. That's on top of the already five percent in cuts made last year, and the 2.5 percent reflected in this year's budget, totaling more than $4 million.
These reductions, as outlined by Jones and recommended by the Budget Review and Development Council, consist of three broad strategies: Reduction or elimination of non-mission critical programs or operations based on data-driven operations, continue the aggressive cost-containing strategies already set in motion (negotiate every new service contract), and improve productivity.
Jones said, "This coordinated approach preserves the integrity of our mission, but it also requires frank, and extensive discussion, that will lead to re-conception of basic business practices."
Vice President for Business and Administration Bob Brown outlined the discrepancies in the budget shortfall totals of $15 and $27 billion being tossed around, plus presented information on both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate's proposed budget bills in their current form.
He also further outlined proposed reductions, as recommended by the Budget Review and Development Council.
"The first thing they did not recommend was a mass layoff," Brown said. "The University needs to continue to grow."
The Council did, however, recommend the University reduce its reliance on adjunct professors, increase select fees in distance education, technology and enhancement and renegotiate service contracts. They also suggested possibly eliminating 90 group insurance premiums (GIP) for new faculty/staff, voluntary and/or mandatory furloughs, and offering early retirement incentives.
Brown and Jones would both continue to drive home the importance of not just enrollment growth but high quality growth. Good students and good programs that are smartly delivered.
"So that high quality growth leads to our students staying longer, being more successful, graduating, so that when we deliver the instruction and other services they provide we do that in the most optimal, cost efficient way that we can," Brown said. "And those of us who are in the business of supporting instruction must continue to increase our own productivity and lower our costs because we're expecting it of other people."
Brown presented startling figures that showed if the University had not experienced a record enrollment this past fall, they'd be in much worse shape entering this next budget cycle. The impact of the fall 2010 semester credit hour increase, according to reports, was $3.2 million.
Also addressed was the potential lack of financial aid, which could affect hundreds of A&M-Commerce students.
The University will not be allowed to dip into HEF funds to make up for budget cuts, as those monies can only be used for instructional equipment of facilities.
The University's reserve balance, which currently is $13.5 million, or 2.5 months worth of operations, may be an option. But Brown said dipping into those funds to offset the reductions would have to be the very last straw.
To account for the 7.5 percent cuts mandated over the last year, the University made reductions by closing its printing shop, enforcing a flexible hiring freeze and reducing 23 positions, delayed planned expansion, used revenues from enrollment growth, and brought savings by delaying merit pay raises, among others.
Dr. Jones added, "We need to think about new and different ways of achieving our goals in an altered economic climate."
A&M-Commerce has planned numerous budget workshops over the next several months and are encouraging anyone with an idea or concern to attend.
Hear Thursday's complete University Community Update, which includes a question and answer session between faculty and staff and administrators, by clicking above.