Universities could face budget problems in 2012

Jenna Staul

The federal stimulus funding that helped prevent cuts at universities across the country is scheduled to run dry in 2012, prompting universities to take a serious look at their financial future.

Stimulus dollars provided a cushion for state universities this fiscal year, helping stave off some 3.5 percent in higher education cuts nationally, according to an annual study by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University.

But when that funding is scheduled to end in 2012, states — and ultimately public universities like Kent State — will have to directly contend with declining tax revenue.

“I think most all states are facing tax revenue shortfalls,” said James C. Palmer, director of the study at Illinois State. “So the question is, how can (states) continue funding social services and meeting expectations with limited tax revenue?”

President Lester Lefton said he would not speculate on contingency plans concerning the university’s operating budget in 2012, though he did add he was “worried” that the state budget situation will not soon improve.

“I have a strategy map that sits over there,” Lefton said, pointing to a poster-sized diagram of his official goals propped upright in the corner of his office. “It talks about the future, but not the bad things. You develop detailed plans for growth. You develop broad strategies for contractions.”

Tim Martin, associate provost of academic budget and resources, said each of the university’s nine colleges has already begun preparing for a challenging 2012 budget.

“2012 is definitely a legitimate concern,” Martin said. “Everybody that you’ve probably talked to is more worried about fiscal year `12 than fiscal year `11.”

Martin said this year the state took $4.6 million in funding and deferred it to the 2011 higher education budget, known as the State Share of Instruction. Each of Kent State’s individual colleges conservatively budgeted around the deferred funding, hoping to receive it next year.

“We’re going to get it next year,” Martin said. “But part of the contingencies that the colleges are hoping to offset is, given the state of the state economy, is there a chance that we may not get that money back? So we decided to make sure we have some money in case that deferred money doesn’t come next year.”

Martin said if the $4.6 million does not cycle back into the budget for fiscal year 2011, the university will not get it back.

“(The colleges) are absolutely looking at 2012,” Martin said. “Some more than others.”

While the individual colleges may be prepping for a turbulent fiscal year 2012, Lefton declined to elaborate on the future of Kent State’s operating budget.

“As the CEO of this large organization, I clearly consider all of the possibilities,” Lefton said. “I have loose plans were things to turn in a negative direction. But they’re not detailed plans. They’re not, ‘Oh I’ll fire this person.’ It’s more a sort of broad approach for how you would deal with a crisis.”

Contact administration reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].