UConn faces budget gap
30.9 million dollars thanks to decrease in state funds, increase in benefits
Just a few months prior to the start of the 2013-2014 academic school year, the Board of Trustees approved a $1.1 million budget only to find a $30.9 million budget gap to coincide with the 165 newly-hired faculty members, over 600 more freshman enrolled than expected, and a newly launched $1.775 billion Next Generation Connecticut program.
The reason for such a large budget gap is due to a reduction in state support as well as an increase in the cost of fringe benefits (health insurance and pensions) for University employees.
"This comes at a time when state financial support has dropped significantly-about $50 million in recent years-and the cost of healthcare and other personnel benefits has greatly increased", said Stephanie Reitz, University of Connecticut's spokesperson.
Simply reducing costs or securing new revenue will not be enough to fill the $30.9 billion budget gap this time. UConn is being forced to draw over $30 million from its reserves after facing limited options.
The reserve is similar to a rainy day fund. Budgeted money not spent or profits from sources such as the Dairy Bar keep the fund active. It is meant as a "back up" for years such as these.
"We prefer not to draw on the University's reserve fund, alternative approaches to closing the gap would have cut too deeply into the University's core missions to be acceptable", Reitz said.
These alternative approaches would include hiking up tuition rates drastically or forcing steep department and program cuts, all of which the university claims it is avoiding.
"We're committed to offering a high-quality and affordable education that prepares students for fulfilling careers, and using revenue funds to address this bump in the road is a far more responsible, responsive approach than increasing students' costs or eliminating programs", said Reitz.
The university continues to ensure that no employee or student will be affected by the budget gap.
"People are still getting the same service", Reitz said. "State employees are not seeing any changes."
The $1.775 Billion Next Generation Connecticut initiative also seems to remain unaffected by UConn's dwindling financial situation. The Next Generation Connecticut initiative seeks to enable the university to build more laboratories, classrooms, and dorms (a projected 750,000 gross square foot project), enroll many more students, and secure advanced scientific equipment.
"We are looking at two entirely different portions of funding", Reitz said. "Next Generation is provided through state funding, it is not coming out of UConn money besides the operating costs".
This, however, does not mean that Next Generation is not affecting other programs funded by the University of Connecticut. The estimated operating cost of the initiative total is $137 million.
As President Susan Herbst stated over the summer in a press release, "Preparation for Next Generation is being integrated into the financial and academic planning for the entire University."
The changes resulting from such planning, whether small or large, are not entirely absent. According to the Board of Trustees Budget Workshop on June 26, students will be experiencing a 5.5 percent tuition increase for the 2013 fiscal year and 6.25 percent tuition increase for 2014. These increases serve to support the costs of the extensive faculty hiring plan proposed by UConn.
In the Puerto-Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC), where signs stating the center will no longer provide printing services due to budget constraints, the effects of budget worries are quite clear.
"We had specific ideas for student leadership development, conferences, and other events, but we now have to reconsider", said Fanny Hannon, Director of PRLACC.
Along with discontinuing certain services, the center is also cutting its hours of operation.
Despite facing difficult choices, the university, along with its programs and centers, strongly urges against sacrificing the quality of education promised at UConn.
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