The university community should prepare for the possibility of severe budget cuts and another tuition increase if state legislators fail to secure adequate funding for Northern Kentucky University, NKU President James Votruba said in his Aug. 22 State of the University address.
The state of the University is strong but both under-funding by the state and the imbalance between funding and the region’s expectations of the university may result in difficult times ahead, Votruba said.
“We need our current funds protected and new funding added if we are to be the university that this region needs and wants us to be. My greatest fear is that this fact will not be recognized or acted upon,” he said.
NKU has two options: complain about funding and sit on our hands waiting for the economy to rebound and the Commonwealth to increase investments, or take responsibility for our future and influence aspects in which there is some control.
“We will do all that we can to demonstrate to the leaders in Frankfort that, rather than an expense, NKU is an investment in the future of both our region and the Commonwealth,” he said.
Student government leaders are already organizing efforts to convince policy makers in Frankfort of the importance of adequate financial support for NKU, a university that supports one of Kentucky’s prime economic region and yet is consistently under-funded by the state.
“NKU is the most under-funded university in the Commonwealth and among our nineteen benchmark institutions. The difference is staggering,” Votruba said.
State Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, said, “We have to bring NKU in line with other public institutions.” Callahan said he and Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, are “leading the charge for NKU” in Frankfort but the effort must be a collective one. “I hope we’ll all be working together,” he said.
As a new governor takes office in December, the state of Kentucky will face a deficit “in the $400 million range and a weak economy that is not producing revenue rapidly enough to correct the deficit,” Votruba said.
Callahan said the deficit might actually be closer to $700 million. “We’re in a situation where we can not move forward or even stay where we’re at without new revenue. We’ll go straight down hill and maybe never recover,” he said.
In light of the uncertainty of state funding, Votruba said the university would do a “deep analysis” of revenue and cost-cutting options and make choices on funding based on the vision, core values and strategic priorities of the university.
Votruba said NKU is the leanest university he has ever seen, but will look for further “opportunities to de-bureaucratize, consolidate and eliminate.”
To raise revenue, the university will have to consider another tuition increase, even as enrollment has reached an all-time high with approximately 14,200 students enrolled for the start of the 2003-2004 year – an increase of nearly 2 percent from last year.
“This is the last thing I and the Board of Regents wants to do,” Votruba said, “but we must balance the expectations of affordability and quality.”
The university will also look to private contributions for funding. In the past year, the university raised over $10 million in private funds and expects to meet its $40 million fund-raising goal, begun in 1999, a year ahead of schedule. Votruba said details on a $2 million gift, the largest in NKU’s history, that will fund scholarships in science and research will soon be announced.
Advances in higher education over the last six years have been possible due to the university community, legislators and a Council on Postsecondary Education, which understands the importance of the university’s impact on economic development and the quality of life for all Kentuckians, along with a strong economy that allowed for postsecondary investments, Votruba said.
“Our challenge, as we enter this academic year, will be to sustain our momentum in a time of enormous uncertainty,” he said.
Callahan said, “We’re fortunate that we’ve got someone like Jim Votruba.” He is highly respected by Caucas members and “we want to turn that respect into funding,” he said.
Nicole Minor, a new faculty member in the biological science department, said, “I’m a little concerned about the financial issues he brought up…(but) considering what he’s done for the last five years for the school, I don’t think I’ll have much to worry about.”