By Casey S. Elliott and Katie Quaranta
While Ohio University's preliminary enrollment and retention figures are strong, the news on the state's economy is far less promising, leading university leaders to express caution about the university budget.
Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl and President Roderick J. McDavis shared the enrollment and budget assessments with Faculty Senate Monday night. (See related story on Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut's conversation with Faculty Senate.)
Krendl said undergraduate preregistration is running slightly ahead of last year and is on target to meet projections. Meanwhile, preliminary retention figures indicate a potential to surpass the university's goal for this year.
The Five Year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan called on the university to stabilize its freshman-to-sophomore retention rate at 78 percent in 2007-08 and then increase it by 1 percentage point each year. But based on preregistrations, the retention rate already appears to be up 1 to 2 percentage points.
"(This) is an important campuswide achievement," Krendl said. "The colleges, their faculty and student support staff have focused their attention and resources on retention over the past two years. Residence Life has also been an important partner."
The university received a record 14,946 freshman applications for this fall, up 1,027 -- or 8 percent -- from last year. Transfer applications were up 87.
From this record number of applications, we have built a class that is strong on quality and diversity," Krendl said. In addition to increases in the incoming class' collective GPAs and ACT scores, selectivity is up -- with the university admitting 78 percent of this year's applicants compared to 82 percent last year.
More detailed numbers are available in Krendl's full report, and final numbers will be known later this month.
Meanwhile, McDavis said the state budget picture for the current fiscal year is a concern, and the university administration will be working on budget contingency plans.
State budget revenue was down for the first two months of the fiscal year that began July 1, with personal income and sales taxes running 6 percent below projections, he said. The state's unemployment rate of 7.2 percent is 1.1 percentage points higher than the national average.
"The economic indicators are not moving in a direction that we had hoped they would," McDavis said. "At this point, we are doing well (as a university), but we don't want to get comfortable."
McDavis said the administration would develop a contingency budget plan for this fiscal year and present it to the Budget Planning Council next week. "We want to be prepared for whatever happens this fiscal year," he said.
In other updates, Krendl reported on the university's health care budget surplus, saying it was determined after a meeting with Faculty, Classified and Administrative senate leaders that the surplus derived from employee contributions would be returned to employees in the form of a health care credit.
McDavis said the credit would be provided for all university employees, including bargaining unit members. The AFSCME contract makes no allowance for such a credit; the Fraternal Order of Police contract does.
The timing and amount of the credit is expected to be determined this month.
A portion of the health care benefits surplus contributed by the university will be used for an employee health and wellness initiative, which is called for in the Vision Ohio plan. The remainder will be used to strengthen the financial position of the university and support its academic priorities. Details will be discussed with the Budget Planning Council.
In the only official business of the meeting, Faculty Senate heard the first reading of a resolution, which Senator Kenneth Brown introduced, to support a faculty collective bargaining unit.
The senate had heard a similar measure at its June meeting, although the revised version no longer focuses on concerns surrounding the distribution of a health benefit surplus as the sole justification. Instead, it includes multiple factors, including a perceived lack of both shared governance and responsiveness from the Ohio University Board of Trustees and university administration.
Attendees of the meetings were primarily faculty senators, non-faculty observers and media. Some senators in addition to Brown spoke in favor of the union, while others said they wanted more information before deciding if they would support such a move.
Brown emphasized that passing the senate resolution would not automatically result in the formation of a bargaining unit. The next step would be an organizing effort by the AAUP. If 30 percent of eligible faculty sign authorization cards, the State Employment Relations Board would schedule an election. If a majority vote in favor of the union, a collective bargaining agreement will be negotiated.
Brown said the senate plans to follow up with a second reading and vote at its October meeting.
To speak with a media representative about this story, contact Media Specialist Katie Quaranta at 740-593-0858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.