By Katie Quaranta
The university's Budget Planning Council has endorsed a proposal from the General Fee Advisory Committee outlining a new plan for allocating general fees next academic year.
The student committee, charged with providing budget scenarios for units receiving general fee funding in fiscal year 2009, presented the plan March 21 to BPC. The council voted to endorse the proposal, which assumes a zero percent change in funding from the current year.
The report also contains contingency scenarios for 3 percent and 5 percent decreases in the general fee in case the state experiences budget shortfalls that force it to reduce its support. BPC said it would consider those contingency plans if circumstances dictate.
Student Senate passed a resolution Wednesday night endorsing all of the committee's recommendations, including the contingency plans.
Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings, director of budget planning and analysis, served as one of several advisers for the group and is proud of the students' work.
"I feel they were thoughtful, and they understood the implications of their recommendations," she said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Kent Smith, who served as the group's primary adviser, agrees.
"The students did an outstanding job in fulfilling their duties," he said. "They were thorough and insightful about the university budget process, and highly articulate in their presentation of their work and recommendations for general fee funding."
He also stressed the value of giving students a say in how the general fee is allocated.
"Because the general fee funds programs and services that enhance students' academic success, it is important to give students a strong voice in how the general fee is allocated," Smith added. "Students have terrific insight about the kinds of programs and services they need to be successful."
The report is subject to the approval of President Roderick J. McDavis and the Ohio University Board of Trustees.
Committee members crafted their scenarios based on application packets from all general fee-funded units explaining how each would be affected by a 5 and 10 percent reduction in fee allotments. They also drew information from hearings conducted in several budget units that receive large general fee allotments.
The zero-percent reduction model also shifts 1.15 percent of the total general fee sum, or $182,000, toward initial funding for a leadership development program and an assistant to the vice president for student affairs.
The committee chose these as the top two of 10 proposed new programs because of their positive impact on student experience, recruitment and retention, and the university's national prominence.
The leadership program calls for hiring a director for leadership to expand existing opportunities on campus, such as services of the Amanda Cunningham Leadership Center, while implementing new programs to enhance leadership development across campus.
The committee prioritized the program because, according to committee Chair Christopher Diehl, it is unique among universities in the nation and will help improve both retention and student experience.
"If it's done right, it can really reach a lot of students on campus," he said. "The leadership program would be a way to put us into the higher echelon (of higher education)."
The committee also gave weight to other criteria when deciding how to reallocate the money needed to fund these priorities, such as how efficient units were with funds, whether they provide an exclusive service or if cuts would have an undue impact on student and staff employment. The committee also tried to focus on units with large budgets that could more readily absorb reallocations.
"We did heavily consider the program/units' impact on students," Diehl said. "What each unit proposed to ... eliminate was also carefully considered and weighed heavily in the decision-making process."
The report calls for the Division of Student Affairs to reallocate 0.96 percent, or $65,000, of its total budget. The committee determined that was a reasonable tradeoff since the leadership program will create new student programming opportunities and much of the reallocated money had funded other programming.
The CatCab and Shuttle Service indicated in its application that it could take a 10 percent budget reduction due to increased efficiencies and a departmental restructuring. Likewise, Intercollegiate Athletics will absorb a 1.32 percent cut through improved travel efficiencies.
The committee also recommended minor cuts to funding for Campus Recreation and the Marching 110.
The committee was created last academic year to provide student input on how to allocate any increase in general fee revenues. However, when the state legislature instituted a two-year freeze on tuition and fees, its purpose shifted to analyzing budget reduction scenarios.
Beyond developing allocation scenarios, the committee also expressed support for the implementation of a waivable student health fee and encouraged the university to build two new turf intramural fields and fund them through pay-to-play intramural sports.
"It seems to be a trend in higher education," Diehl said of the proposed student health fee. "It would really bring us up to par."
Committee members also articulated a strong commitment for the Arts for Ohio initiative that has made possible free admission to most arts-related events, although they did not recommend it for general fee funding at this time because it is slated to receive a second year of one-time funding through the Vision OHIO Five-Year Implementation Plan.
Click here to view a PDF of the committee's report.