University faces uncertain financial future

A tuition increase of up to 18 percent is one option the Board of Regents is considering to offset the threat of budget cuts by the state.

At the Jan. 15th meeting of the Board of Regents, NKU President James Votruba said he is “not prepared to recommend a tuition increase at this point.” However, if funds are not supplied by the state, an increase will be necessary just to keep essential services.

Tuition and fees at NKU provide 51 percent of the university’s public funding, a high percentage when compared to other Kentucky state-financed universities that span between 27 to 39 percent tuition dependency for funding.

“Our students already carry a bigger burden” than students at comparable universities in the region, according to Gerald Hunter, vice president for enrollment and financial planning.

Student Government Association President and Student Regent, Katie Herschede, said it’s not fair for the state to cut even more funding and “pass the buck” to students and their families.

NKU has been underfunded by the state by $26 million in recent years and the state is currently considering cuts anywhere from 1.8 percent to 10 percent for post-secondary education. If the cuts are realized, the loss of revenue to the university could range from $500,000 to $4 million.

The university is prepared to handle a 1.8 percent cut, Votruba said, but the university would suffer in quality that students would notice.

The amount of funding cuts to post-secondary education depends largely on whether the state will designate Pre-K-12 “harmless,” which means the funding for that group would not be cut.

Votruba acknowledged that cuts for any level of education could have a detrimental effect on the long-term education of students, however, leaving Pre-K-12 “harmless” would mean deep cuts for the university.

If Pre-K-12 is left “harmless,” Votruba said, funding could be cut by as much as 10 percent, forcing the university to consider capping enrollment, limiting academic programs and services to the community, delaying maintenance on facilities and staff cuts.

These cuts would come at a time when NKU is experiencing the greatest demand in its history. Current enrollment is near 14,000 and growing each year and the community is asking Northern for greater public engagement.

According to Votruba, the community is asking NKU for expanded access and quality, as well as broadened outreach programs such as more interaction with young rural children so they consider college in the future. These services take tremendous resources, Votruba said. “At the same time, Frankfort is pulling funds,” he said.

NKU, already carrying out administrative actions as a result of the shortage of funding, has been forced to place extra reliance on part-time faculty with many sharing office space. Administrative leadership is also handling tasks typically handled by professional staff to the faculty.

The university has also had to endure a decrease in library materials available to students in addition to operating with facilities that were constructed to support a student body of just 5,000.

If the budget cut is handled by halting repairs on the aging facilities at NKU, it could save the university a good deal of money, initially. After some time, however, the university could spend more money repairing neglected buildings than if they kept up with maintenance continually.

“This campus is as lean as anywhere I’ve been,” Votruba said. “One way or another, we will find a way to do what’s important.”

However, as cuts are made, the lives of community members will be affected, Votruba said. “The region needs NKU to grow” and NKU needs state funding to do that. ” We have to convince the public to convince the legislature,” Votruba said.

This is the seventh month that NKU has been operating under the governor’s spending plan while the budget is worked out in Frankfort. “The bottom line is that we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Votruba said.

The next Board of Regents meeting is set for March and the tuition increase will be discussed further at that time. Recommendations will be based on “our response to Frankfort and our response to our own aspirations,” Votruba said.