State budget cuts jeopardize NKU’s financial future

Higher education has been spared the ax so far as Kentucky legislators cut the state budget to account for revenue shortfalls, but how much longer education can survive is still in question.

In a visit to Northern Kentucky University last week, James Ramsey, senior policy advisor to Gov. Paul E. Patton, said in the last and current fiscal year there has been three budget cuts and that another could happen. If it does, Ramsey said, it would be hard not to put education on the cutting table.

University president James C. Votruba responded by saying NKU has to take responsibility for its own financial future.

“We are in the process of trying to determine what can be generated through the various strategies that we are employing,” said Votruba. “Currently, it would require an additional $1.2 million to cover the investments that we need to make in the campus.”

Votruba outlined a four-step revenue-producing strategy that he hopes will generate enough funds to keep the proposed tuition increase at the 9.5 percent level.

Earlier in the year it was thought the tuition increase could be kept to the 5.5 percent level with the hope that full benchmark funding would be made available by the state.

“What was not considered,” said Votruba, ” was what tuition would need to be if the state cuts post-secondary budgets which now appears likely at some point in the next 18 months. My hope is that, with the revenue strategies that we discussed, we will be able to absorb the cost of a state budget reduction and still keep tuition at 9.5 percent.”

The four steps proposed to generate revenue are: growth that doesn’t require investments, targeted growth, academic entrepreneurship and pricing.

Increasing class sizes by 10 percent would account for growth without investment. Votruba said this would produce the largest financial payoff but made it clear he intended to keep NKU “up close and personal.”

Students are still the center of our concerns, Votruba said, and 10 percent is the largest increase that will be considered.

Targeted growth will look at programs that can produce revenue with some front-loading investment. Although it is still unclear how much can be afforded in this type of investing, Votruba said if the projected revenue is not met, the investment will be withdrawn.

Studies are being done to determine what programs show the most promise for this type of investing. Votruba said it may not necessarily be the programs targeted in the new academic strategic plan.

Academic entrepreneurship involves creating revenue by getting departments and colleges involved in four areas of academic programming: summer, distance, weekend and intersession. The idea is to increase enrollment with this type of programming, not simply enroll current students.

The final step is pricing. Course shopping, bulk pricing, reciprocity and tuition are the areas being looked at here.

Votruba discussed the possibility of creating a financial penalty for students who engage in course shopping, which involves students enrolling in six to seven classes initially and then dropping the two or three they least like.

Bulk pricing would look at the way tuition is currently paid per credit hour. Right now, tuition is charged for up to 12 credit hours, with no additional tuition charge for anything over 12 hours.

Reciprocity would look at making adjustments in what out-of-state students pay.

Tuition, according to Votruba, is the last thing that will be considered.

Katie Herschede, president of the student government association, said she hopes the marginal growth incentives, such as increasing class size, will help to offset the increases in tuition.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep tuition low,” said Herschede. “It’s a tough situation.”

Votruba’s finalized plan will be presented to the student government and the Board of Regents in January.

“Any changes in tuition and fees must be approved by the Board,” Votruba said. “Other elements of the strategy regulating growth can be initiated by the administration with consultation with students, faculty and staff.”

Herschede said that although the budget picture looks bad, it’s important that NKU continue to grow.

“The really important thing is we keep the momentum going,” said Herschede. “We’re building, we’re growing, we have great things going on. I think a lot of people are really afraid that without as much money, we’ll lose that momentum.”