Paying for a quality education

Ben Wolford

Administration juggles big desires and shaky revenue

It’s the classic economic problem to have unlimited wants, but limited resources.

And at Kent State and higher education institutions everywhere, desires are growing and resources are shrinking.

“We remain committed to the quality of the education we provide,” said Gregg Floyd, vice president for finance and administration. “But you can’t constrain the resources artificially and expect the quality to go unchanged.”

With the reliability of revenue in question, Kent State administrators search for ways to keep up with inflation without making sacrifices or raising tuition too much.

For the last two years, tuition stayed the same under a state-mandated freeze.

Unless that happens again, President Lester Lefton said students will almost definitely see an increase next year.

“If we are allowed to increase tuition, we obviously have to,” he said. “If we can’t hire quality faculty, then the excellence agenda goes down the drain.”

Ohio is in financial trouble, having cut its budget nearly across the board in September. It’s yet to be seen how much money will come from the state when the budget for the next two years is drawn up in July. Right now, about one-third of Kent State’s budget is supported by state funding.

Meanwhile, the value of Kent State’s stock portfolio has shrunk between 14 and 30 percent since the middle of October, Lefton said at the Faculty Senate meeting Monday.

Lefton said the administration has been proactive in trying to build a financial cushion, creating programs such as the Expense Management Initiative and changing the university budget model. And other unannounced ideas are in the works, he said.

He added that the university has not expanded its number of faculty and staff.

“We’ve got a lot of things going on right now – LER reform, public health school, sustainability,” Lefton said. “And you want to keep those things moving ahead. You can’t stop progress because you’re in a financial crunch, and that’s difficult.”

The Higher Education Price Index tracks inflation on goods and services used by universities. For the 2008 fiscal year, HEPI increased 3.6 percent compared with 3.4 percent the year before.

Unfortunately, Floyd said, the state’s appropriations don’t usually follow that number proportionately, and he doesn’t think state officials are in any position to do that for the next fiscal year.

“(HEPI) is a guide that people look at to gauge what would be a reasonable amount of growth,” Floyd said. “But to say that the state would continue to provide funding at that great rate of increase – well, we haven’t been that lucky.”

Consequently, revenue will have to come from other places.

“It’s important that we continue to try to bring stronger enrollments and larger class sizes,” Floyd said. “That’s clearly the nicest way to grow revenues.”

The meanest way is tuition increases, which could discourage students who can’t afford to pay more.

But Lefton is confident in Kent State’s draw power.

“We already charge less than places like Akron,” he said. “Their fees are significantly higher than ours. We’ve got competitive tuition.”

Contact administration reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].