UM departments prepare for $9.5M in budget cuts

2014-03-22T10:33:00Z 2014-03-22T23:56:04Z UM departments prepare for $9.5M in budget cutsBy MARTIN KIDSTON Missoulian The Billings Gazette
March 22, 2014 10:33 am  • 

The commitment period for incoming college freshmen may still be months away, but the University of Montana is projecting an improvement in fall enrollment, and measures are in place to balance next year’s budget.

Facing a shortfall of $9.5 million next fiscal year, departments across campus have identified savings of roughly 7.8 percent, including a reduction of $1.7 million to academic affairs and $1.1 million to administration and finance.

Direct classroom instruction — the largest slice of the general fund budget at $64.2 million — will see the smallest reduction at just 1 percent, or $642,000.

“We’ve received information from the sector heads on what’s going to be cut and how we’re going to cut it,” said Mike Reid, vice president of administration and finance. “Most of the dollars have been identified and captured.”

Reid presented the figures to the university’s budget committee last week.

The latest numbers are based on projections made in January, and while they’re subject to change, Reid said, they’ll serve to bring the school’s costs in line with current enrollment trends.

“This is based on flat enrollment and assumes a flat incoming freshman class,” Reid said. “It includes no tuition increases, except for non-resident students. Depending on what happens with enrollment, this should be what we’re looking at for 2015.”

The university saw enrollment jump beginning in 2007 and peak in 2011. As a result, it hired more faculty and staff to meet students’ needs.

Over the past two years, however, incoming classes have been smaller, reflecting the size of classes that entered UM prior to the recession.

As the larger classes matriculate through the system — replaced by smaller incoming classes — Reid said the school must bring its costs in line to reflect changing needs.

“We’re not looking at layoffs or cutting positions other than through the hiring chill process, looking at attrition, restructuring and reorganization,” Reid said. “There are positions we won’t fill when they become open.”

Reid expects the university to continue the practice over the next two years. Once the 2015 budget is solidified, he said, the school will begin planning further out, making future adjustments easier to manage.

“The original plan was to get on top of the budget, get ahead of it early,” Reid said. “The focus now is how we move the institution forward, take care of the students here, keep them here and attract more.”

Projecting enrollment can be a tricky business, and faculty and staff have ramped up recruiting efforts to drive up the number of new and incoming students.

Provost Perry Brown expects the efforts to pay off, saying the projections are trending “in the right direction.”

Still, he added, the commitment period has yet to arrive, making it hard to look toward September, when the new academic year gets underway.

“The numbers are trending on the upward side compared to last year,” he said. “But that’s depending on people making decisions on where they’re actually going to go to school, and we’re not at that point yet. We’re optimistic, but we have the rest of the spring and summer to go through first.”

Until those enrollment numbers take shape, the budget will remain a work in progress. As it stands, a reduction of $9.5 million has been prepared across campus sectors, the largest coming from central services at $4.8 million.

The president’s office will see a reduction of 7.8 percent, or $180,000, while $135,000 will come from integrated communications. Athletics is planning a reduction of $226,000, while student affairs will cut $163,000.

Reid said the targets of the cuts within each sector will be available in the weeks ahead. The reductions come in addition to a $5.7 million budgetary reduction during the 2014 fiscal year.

“We’re on the tail end of the big enrollment classes,” said Reid. “We’re poised very well for ’16 as enrollment turns around. You’ll see the dollars stabilize. You won’t have this four-year bump you’re trying to digest.”

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