About 100 staff, faculty and even a few students gathered Friday for an informal discussion with President Bob Frank and some top administrators about the budget and other university issues. President Frank opened with a brief presentation on the factors that have led to the current financial climate at UNM and plans for dealing with these challenges.
He explained that a slight decline in enrollment has created part of the budget shortfall, but also success in getting students graduated faster is another part of the equation. The number of full time students who have increased their course loads to at least 15 hours per semester has gone up almost 20 percent over the past four years. That means more students are taking advantage of cheaper tuition incentives and more on are on track to graduate in fewer years. Frank emphasized this is a positive trend that UNM has worked hard to encourage, but it also has a financial impact.
“This is great for students, good for New Mexico, not so good for our budget, but the right thing to do,” Frank said.
At the beginning of the FY-16, University administrators held back five percent of the previously budgeted funding to ensure there would be enough revenue to cover the anticipated shortfall. The decrease in fall enrollment amounted to $1.85 million, while the shift in student course loads added up $1.4 million less in revenue this semester. The administration set aside another $1.2 million as a cushion in case the spring enrollment is also down, and then returned $10.6 million to the various departments and units. That means that 3.5 percent of the 5 percent withheld goes back into their budgets.
In order to prevent future volatility in the budget process, UNM administrators are also trying to “right size” expenditures, and continue to bring expenses into balance with the lower revenue. A hiring review process is underway to reduce the 5,100 main campus staff positions by 100 through attrition.
Frank explained that would amount to one position out of every eight vacancies that come open on campus, so there is plenty of room to ensure that critical positions will continue to be filled. He applauded efforts to increase use of automated processes and service centers to relieve the burdens on existing staff.
“We are a smaller university than we used to be. We have fewer students, so we need fewer employees,” he said. “No one will get laid off. These are positions that are open.”
Frank explained that even a flat budget amounts to a decrease in revenue due to anticipated hikes in health care, utilities and other costs of doing business.
That is why, along with cutting expenses, his administration is also looking at ways to increase revenue. That strategy includes more active recruitment of students from New Mexico, as well as nationally and internationally, as well as efforts to grow the Masters degree programs and to offer more online courses for non-traditional students. Frank said the new branding initiative currently under development should help with these plans.
Frank, along with Provost Chaouki Abdallah, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Terry Babbitt, and Associate Vice President for the Budget Office Andrew Cullen, fielded questions from the audience about branding, compensation, raises and health care benefit costs. Frank invited those attending to offer suggestions for ways to meet these challenges and to make the university more efficient. Recommendations and comment can be sent to his email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a recording of the town hall and accompanying slide show presentation, click here.