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Budget hits hard during Southern’s State of the University presentation

Mackenzie Hurlbert | Staff Writer
Interim President Stanley Battle (left) and Executive Vice President James Blake (right) after presenting the State of the University to the Southern community.

MACKENZIE HURLBERTStaff Writer

The current budget outlook and a new governing structure for higher education were the focus at the State of the University meeting, where Interim President Stanley Battle opened up with a few sobering remarks on Thursday.

“Bits and pieces of our fabric were certainly at risk financially,” said Battle, reflecting on this past summer’s government cuts and financial effects.

Executive Vice President James Blake informed the Southern audience about the drastic reductions in appropriations from the state, changes in enrollment statistics and the predicted future of Southern’s financial situation. In order to lessen this year’s current budget, Southern reduced full-time teaching positions from 1,023 to 998. They also concentrated on operational savings such as the costs of heating and air conditioning and set no funding aside for strategic initiatives.

“To balance the budget means we can’t hire the way we want to,” said Blake.

Tuition and fees also rose by 2.5 percent in an attempt to balance the budget even further. Even with these changes, the University needed to use almost $4 million of reserves—with the approval of the board—to fund a portion of the 2012 payroll. Divisional budgets, on the other hand, were reduced by $4.7 million, which meant cuts for the dining, transportation and cleaning faculty.

“Whether it’s customer service or prices, we have to look at the whole,” said Blake.

On Aug. 25, Southern received news that the state appropriations would be reduced by $4.2 million, and then on Sept. 7, there was notice that there would be another reduction of $1.25 million. In response and to cut the budget further, 16 administrative positions were left vacant until Jan. 1, 2012.

Over the last three years, State appropriations have been reduced by $15.5 million and have been becoming less and less of Southern’s revenue. For example, in 2000, state appropriations were 60 percent of our university’s revenue and tuition and fees filled the 40 percent gap. In 2011, appropriations now make up 40 percent of our

now struggle to fill the 60 percent gap.

“You’re talking about the perfect storm,” said Battle in regard to appropriations.

Because our university is now so dependent on student payments, enrollment numbers are becoming even more important. The goal for this year’s enrollment was 12,203 students, a two-percent enrollment increase from last year. Unfortunately, the actual headcount for this year’s enrollment was 11,533 students.

“That’s the scary part,” said Blake. “Enrollment down means we have to do something different.”

By not fulfilling their goal, the university’s plan of “growing our way out of the budget” has been delayed. One main cause for the lack of success with enrollment is this year’s decrease in part-time student enrollment.  In 2010, the number of part time students at Southern was 3,470, and this year that number has dropped to 3,071. This decrease is due to a new policy: this year was the first time freshmen couldn’t enroll as part-time students.

“Enrollment is everybody’s challenge,” said Blake. “We need to do something different. We need to look at the whole array.”

As far as Southern’s financial forecast goes, there is predicted to be a possible five-percent reduction of state appropriations, which totals another $3 million. Historically, spring enrollment is less than the fall, so filling the financial gap with more students isn’t a likely solution.

Southern is on a path of diminishing state appropriations and shrinking student enrollment rates, while schools like Central, who used to have equal enrollment numbers to ours, is now 1,000 students larger than Southern.

“We’ve got two choices,” said Blake. “We need to either turn enrollment around or brace ourselves for the impact.”

Battle finished the presentation with a hopeful attitude.

“This is everyone’s challenge and everyone’s opportunity,” he said. “If you leave here today and go home and back to your office and say well I’m not going to do anything, that’s not the way to approach this situation.”

Battle explained that although we may not be monetarily endowed right now, our new programs and projects in New Haven have improved Southern’s reputation while also giving back to the community.

“We’ve got to educate the public in terms of what we do,” said President Battle. “We know what we’re doing, we know how to do it, and we do what we do. This community feeds off of us.”

Southern has received grants including a $1.9 million endowment from the US Department of Education for the improvement in the education of Native American English-speaking students. Grant support can help fill the budget gap, but we must prove ourselves as a University first.

“In order for us to get funding, we need to demonstrate that we’re on the right course,” said Battle.

Other points of the presentation included the important  faculty support of student functions, the new leadership within the board and Connecticut State University system (which is now comprised of 17 institutions) and developments Southern is making within the New Haven public school system, such as the introduction of classes in Hebrew and Chinese.

“We may not have the money Yale has, but we have the heart, the soul, the initiative, and the drive,” said Battle.

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