Officials OK with governor’s budget
Luke Pryor Collegio Reporter
President Steve Scott and other university officials held a forum on the university and state budget on Wednesday afternoon, outlining issues and concerns of PSU over state budget proposals.
Scott and John Patterson, vice president of administration and campus life, traveled to Topeka on Tuesday to give a presentation to the House of Representatives regarding the university and its relation to the budget proposals, and discussed this presentation with those in attendance at Wednesday’s forum.
Scott and Patterson both made reference to the governor’s proposed budget that intends to retain the budget numbers from last year. Scott said that he and other university officials support that decision.
“The governor has recommended that we have a flat funding from FY (fiscal year) ’11 to FY ’12, which would mean we would be allocated another $34.6 million,” Scott said. “We’re supporting that proposal, we’re thankful to the governor as to him presenting that proposal, because other states, as you know, are facing serious cuts.”
Despite the projected allocated funds decreasing recently, Patterson said a flat budget would be a positive thing for the university this year, even though it would have seemed discouraging in the past.
“We’re one of the very few in a handful of state agencies that are not targeted for a reduction of state funding next year,” Patterson said.
However, Patterson said that the flat budget proposed by the state is dependent on a number of things, one of which is the March revenue figures in the state. He said that if revenues are not as high as projected, more cuts may be necessary.
Victoria White, the legislative liaison for PSU, discussed other bills and proposals currently up for debate in the state Legislature that could affect the university adversely. Of particular importance, she said that a projected bill that would repeal the 1 percent state sales tax could have a large impact on the state budget.
“There were many people who were unhappy with those who passed that sales tax, but it added a lot of revenue to the state,” White said. “If that sales tax was repealed, that would leave us in a real hole for this year.”
Among other concerns of the university over budget issues, the speakers at the forum addressed the following:
Students are paying more and more each year, which in turn translates into an increase in individual student loans; the state contributes 46 percent of student tuition costs, the rest is placed on the student.
Tuition increased about 6 percent last year. As the tuition continues to increase, fewer students will have access to education, and this is a concern of the universities.
There is an estimated $1.4 million in increased costs next year that are currently unfunded.
Even with a flat budget there are projected cuts in the 2012 state budget for public radio funding, which would hurt KRPS, the university public-radio station.
The projected elimination of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation (KTEC), which helps fund research at the PSU polymer research center.
A lack of support for pay plan of classified employees by some members of the state Legislature, again dependent on March revenues.
Lynette Olson, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said that despite certain departmental cuts the university is still committed to serving the needs of both the students and faculty, and will continue work on the assessment of student learning at PSU and enhance the elements of student education, despite difficult economic times.
“You need to invest in people,” Olson said. “That’s kind of always been one of my perspectives as an administrator. I’ve always thought it was very important to invest in the people who are getting the job done.”
This optimism was also maintained by Scott, who in his presentation to the Legislature said that “we want to be part of the solution to the economic challenges of the state, not part of the problem.” Scott also said that the administration continued to emphasize the main focus of the university, the students.
“We know why we’re here, that’s for students,” Scott said. “They’re not part of the backdrop,”
Other points made by the speakers of the positive direction the university continues to go in were:
PSU continues to show substantial growth in both head count and credit-hour production. The fall semester set a record for credit-hour production, which is the number of students enrolled multiplied by the number of hours they are taking.
PSU continues to be an affordable choice for students compared to other institutions in the state. On average, the cost per credit hour of other state regent universities is $329, and it is $256 at PSU, the second lowest in the state.
PSU has taken steps to become more efficient, increase student retention and graduation rate, and work on the university goal of sustainability: it is working on a $4.7 million energy performance contract, which aims to lower utility bills over the next 13 years; it expanded its Gorilla Advantage program into Northwest Arkansas; and it continues to pursue private donations for building projects.
PSU continues to work toward future growth and maintenance: the master plan, currently under way, would provide a guideline for future expansion and programs of the university; the university sustainability plan provides a framework for energy conservation and environmental impact of the campus; the fine- and performing-arts center continues to move along, with design and construction concepts already being discussed.