University balances funds

Ryan Loew

With lacking state support for cash-strapped Ohio universities, balancing a budget is about staying out of the red. But drawing blood through budget cuts and further tapping into the vein of student finances are economic realities.

And for Kent State, budget season this year means a hard look at funding for programs and a possible rise in tuition.

David Creamer, vice president of administration, said he expects the Board of Trustees to increase tuition for the 2006 fiscal year, but it is unknown how much the board will raise it.

“Every time the state fails to adequately provide its share of increasing costs of educating students, the students are penalized by a combination of higher tuition and reduced service,” he said.

From 2004 to 2005, state appropriation shrunk by more than $2 million, while student fees have increased from about $145 million to $160 million.

This comes as no surprise to students such as Gary Broadbent, executive director of the Undergraduate Student Senate.

“I think the main reason tuition goes higher and higher is because state support keeps getting lower and lower,” he said. “And it’s disappointing.

“We need to make sure, obviously, that Kent State remains an affordable school. As state support dwindles, I don’t know where else you’re going to get that money. In order to keep this university academically sound, sadly, I think raising tuition is the only answer.”

Dealing with lacking state support and rising tuition costs is a balancing act the university is forced to deal with, Creamer said, and the result could mean cost reductions among university programs.

“We’re stuck looking at how much do we make up by raising tuition and reducing costs,” he said. “We’re trying to balance what gives you a quality education and the affordability of it. And debate is always around what that mix should be.”

In the past, Creamer said, the university has shifted some of its programs, such as the Campus Bus Service and the University Bookstore, to private companies to reduce expenses.

Layoffs and program cost reductions are also part of balancing the budget, especially now because of lacking state subsidies.

“Ultimately, the president (Carol Cartwright) has to make some difficult decisions,” Creamer said. “We’ve tried not to eliminate whole pieces but find ways to lower the costs of what is being provided today so that it is less expensive in the future.”

Reducing the number of administrative employees takes priority above making cuts to programs that affect students, Cartwright said.

“In many ways, there are hundreds and hundreds of decisions to be made to balance the budget,” Cartwright said. “The goal is to find more efficiencies in administrative areas so we can protect more academic programs.”

Every fiscal year, the university proposes a budget by analyzing its previous expenses and estimating its future funding. Tuition makes up about 62 percent of the total funds available, which is about $258 million for 2005.

The university then proposes its budget to the Board of Trustees, typically at the last board meeting of the academic year, Creamer said.

The majority of university funds goes to academics and related departments, Cartwright said, estimating the amount at about 70 percent.

“Ultimately, it’s all devoted to delivering our mission,” Cartwright said.

For the 2005 budget, more than $100 million of the university’s total expended funds went to academic affairs.

“The intent is that everything always goes back to the students,” Creamer said.

Money is divided among colleges and academic departments based on the history of their expenses, and Provost Paul Gaston decides how much each school gets, Creamer said.

The College of Arts and Sciences gets the most money, he said, “simply by its size.”

Academic reductions should be last on the university’s sights during budget cuts, Broadbent said.

“It’s always tough when it comes time to cut the budget,” he said. “I think it’s always important that academics is the last thing that gets cut. It’s why we’re here.”

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at [email protected].