By Casey S. Elliott and Katie Quaranta
The Ohio University Board of Trustees on Friday passed a resolution to approve a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes investments in university priorities and gives top officials authority to make adjustments in the event of reduced funding from the state.
The budget allocates more than $18 million in additional funding for strategic initiatives, including $5.2 million in scholarships and financial aid, $4.1 million to support a new Student Information System (SIS) and upgrades to the university's network infrastructure, and $2.3 million for Vision OHIO projects such as Arts for Ohio, a new four-year nursing degree program, learning communities and the Allen Student Help Center.
Trustee Larry Schey underscored that Vision OHIO goals were the driving force behind the investments, which the university funded through reallocations from planning units, efficiency initiatives and the implementation of a network infrastructure and SIS student fee.
"We are consciously and thoughtfully investing in areas that match and align with strategic objectives," Schey said.
The $684 million budget also outlines the allocation of $30.4 million in general fee revenues to various university departments, including $1.2 million for Intercollegiate Athletics to support student scholarships and operations. State law requires that general fee money be used for non-instructional student support and student-related activities while dollars from the general fund support instruction and general administration.
President Roderick J. McDavis added in his report to the board that because of shortfalls in investment income, Ohio University would be contributing general fund dollars to scholarships and financial aid for students. And because of state budget cuts, the institution also would be providing $500,000 more for the Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs.
"We wanted to keep the commitments we have to our current students," McDavis said. Also, state cuts have hit the Voinovich School particularly hard, so he said he wanted to ensure that the school's staff and students could continue programs.
The budget resolution also gives McDavis, in conjunction with the chair of the Board of Trustees, the power to make adjustments should the state legislature's final biennial budget differ from the one introduced by the governor in February. The state budget is currently in a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions with a final version expected by June 30.
At Thursday's Resources Committee meeting, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur said that if the state does cut funding to higher education, the university would be able to fill at least part of that monetary gap through anticipated enrollment and retention increases that have not been factored into the budget.
Other contingency planning and efficiency efforts are ongoing in order to maintain the university's financial and academic strength during difficult economic times, including work on a policy that would allow the university to institute mandatory furloughs for employees if necessary. According to Decatur, such efforts are critical because of variables ranging from the recent institution of a new, outcomes-based formula for allocating State Share of Instruction dollars to continued economic uncertainty at the state and national level.
Trustee Schey emphasized the importance of long-term contingency planning on Friday.
"Nineteen percent of the State Share of Instruction (SSI) in this current budget is funded by federal stimulus dollars, which means that the next time around that money won't be there," he said. "We can't afford in these times to just look at the next year and the next two years. We need to look further out when planning our strategic funding."
In his report to the board, McDavis reviewed the university's progress toward achieving year-one Vision OHIO goals, including successes in moving faculty salaries up among peer institutions, completing the Graduate Centers of Excellence Review and increasing the number of freshmen participating in Learning Communities to 56 percent, from 49 percent. He also commended University Advancement for raising more than $23 million through fundraising efforts, exceeding the university goal for this fiscal year by $3 million.
Board Chairman C. Robert Kidder agreed that University Advancement would continue to play an important role in funding priorities as the university moves forward.
"As you all know we've had 10 years of budget pressures. The odds are the next five won't be that much prettier," he said. "The odds of our creating a surplus in order to be able to fund some of these strategic initiatives is low and, therefore, the strategic perspective will be a great importance to our ability to manage these funds well, as well being of great importance in development activities."
McDavis additionally highlighted nationally significant achievements by students and employees in the past year, including students in a Media Arts and Studies class completing a feature film and Forbes magazine ranking Ohio University fourth in the country for the amount of license revenue generated in relation to research funding.
Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl further outlined progress on Vision OHIO goals and initiatives in her report Friday. Krendl said that progress coincided with the University System of Ohio's and Chancellor Eric Fingerhut's goals for all universities in the state.
Some initiatives that came out of that statewide focus included mission differentiation between universities, outcomes-based budgeting, Ohio University's switch from quarters to semesters, a focus on affordability for all higher education, and new initiatives such as Centers of Excellence, the Choose Ohio First Scholarship program and the Ohio Research Scholars Program.
Showing progress on another Vision OHIO goal, faculty salaries have increased as a result of $2.4 million invested over the past two years. Krendl also noted all colleges at the university will have a workload policy in place for fall 2009 that balances the instructional needs of each unit with the needs of faculty to pursue research and creative activity.
Krendl also noted Ohio University is on track to continue its trend of increasing first-year student retention, and has increased the number, quality and diversity of students for the fall 2009 class.