The 82nd Texas Legislative Session will be assessing the future of higher education funding and university officials say increasing enrollment can help offset cuts to the budget.
The Texas Senate and House are in ongoing discussions for appropriation bills that could cut funding for higher education by an undetermined percentage.
Assistant Provostsaid the current estimated 10 percent cut to the higher education budget is an approximation that could increase or decrease depending on negotiations.
Bourgeois said the most severe proposals for budget shortfalls and reductions are articulated in January and February, and political compromises can be reached in May by the end of the legislative session. He said the school can do little to prepare for any future cuts and can only react when the budget is passed.
“There’s not really a question of being able to discuss that sort of action beforehand with faculty or staff,” Bourgeois said. “It would unfortunately be a matter of reacting to the state’s mandate.”
Any future cuts come on the heels of a 5 percent budget reduction in 2010, which the university was able to absorb because of the additional revenue generated from increased enrollment. University Presidentsent an e-mail to faculty and staff saying Texas State is “fortunate in one respect that our enrollment growth has produced additional revenue not anticipated at the time our budget for the fiscal year was prepared.”
Funds were saved instead of allocated when the 5 percent cut was implemented, freezing the hiring of new faculty and staff positions. Bourgeois said the university has a flexible hiring freeze for all staff positions on campus, and positions filled have to be requested and approved at the university’s vice presidential level.
Bourgeois said vacant faculty positions can be reauthorized if the department already has funding available.
William Nance, vice president for Finance and Support Services, said the school has been banking the additional revenue accumulated from enrollment growth instead of immediately reallocating it.
“Hopefully, we have some revenue that we’ve held back that we can trade off and use to fill the hole in the budget,” Nance said. “We’ve built our own rainy day fund, but it’s not enough to cover everything.”
Michael Heintze, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, said the school has grown at a planned 3 to 5 percent for the last five years, in part because of the growing number of high school students in Texas. He said freshman applications for fall 2011 increased 10 percent compared to last fall’s applications and remains optimistic about continuing the increasing enrollment pattern.
“The legislature and the coordinating board have been actively encouraging public universities in the state to grow where possible and accommodate the growing number of high school students,” Heintze said. “So the growth is part of a statewide effort. Within the funding structure, the additional resources do allow us to offset some of the needs that come along with the growth.”
, director of Housing and Residential Life, said she works closely with Heintze to ensure there are enough beds available for incoming freshmen. Proite said Heintze provides projections for freshmen enrollment so she can assess the availability of rooms for sophomores and upperclassmen.
Residence Life does not make a profit, and Proite said larger freshman classes will help pay for new dorms, but they have been careful not to burden students.
“We were happy to realize that our rates for rooms for next year are only going up 3 percent,” Proite said. “We’ve had some years where we had to go up 7 to 9 percent. We’ve been very careful and conservative. We are trying very much to be as sensitive as we can.”
Bourgeois said the university is preparing for a modest growth in enrollment for fall 2011 and said admissions will continue to be very significant for the university.
The university’s total operating budget is approximately $400 million, and Nance said the legislature provides about a quarter of the total budget. Any cuts to the budget from the legislature will come out of the approximate $100 million the state provides to the school.
University officials and the Board of Regents have already approved a set tuition increase for the 2011-2012 school year. State statute prohibits universities from changing the cost of tuition once early registration begins, but Nance said a special Board of Regents meeting could be called prior to that date to react if budget cuts are already handed down.
Nance said once early registration for fall 2011 passes, any additional increases to tuition could be implemented for spring 2012 or fall 2012 at the earliest.
Bourgeois said any reductions to the university’s funding would have to be implemented immediately. He said potential mandates to the budget could be addressed specifically to higher education, or could be a mix of both higher education and state agencies.
“When those kinds of mandates come from the governor to all state agencies, typically they include the phrase ‘and higher education,’” Bourgeois said. “(Higher education) is not excluded from those orders that are sent to, for example, the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Transportation.”
Nance said the university will likely be “scrambling” this summer to put all the changes in the budget into effect before August.
Nance said he remains optimistic despite the uncertain future of the university’s budget.
“It is encouraging when you talk to legislators, because I think they have an appreciation for the value and importance of education,” Nance said. “I believe they’ll do everything they can do to minimize any damage to the educational system. They understand our predicament, and we’ll get through this together.”