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Big Ten schools scramble

BY KEVIN HOFFMAN | OCTOBER 16, 2009 7:20 AM

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The UI is bracing for some of the worst budget misery in the Big Ten with roughly $50 million in total fiscal 2010 cuts.

Across the country, a couple Big Ten universities’ budgets were spared, though most are still looking for ways to save money.

University of Michigan officials said they will not face any budget cuts this year, mostly because of the school’s savings from the past six years. The university has eliminated nearly $135 million in recurring general funds with a combination of small changes, including employee health benefits, energy conservation, and purchasing methods.

“We keep looking for opportunities to both save money and to continue looking for ways to generate revenue,” said Rick Fitzgerald, the senior public affairs and media relations representative.

He pointed to cuts such as the number of flowers the university plants to renegotiating contracts with suppliers for equipment.

Ohio State University is also avoiding cuts.

“We are very fortunate we have a government and Legislature that are extremely committed to higher education,” Ohio State media-relations director Jim Lynch said.

But officials are taking measures to save $90 million to prepare for future economic troubles, he said.

Ohio State is entering its third year without any tuition increases, a promise the university made to students and families. State support also made it possible to avoid layoffs, and Ohio State employees are eligible for a 2.5 percent payroll increase, Lynch said.

But elsewhere, Big Ten schools are being asked to slice millions from their funding.

Penn State University spokesman Geoff Rushton said the university saw two midyear budget cuts last year, totaling $21 million.

Officials asked each area of the school to trim 2 percent from its budget going into the school year, affecting some construction projects and faculty pay raises, he said.

But Penn State is now turning to the state. The Legislature passed a spending bill, though university officials are still unclear how much they’ll receive.

At the University of Illinois, its state is already chipping in. The school cut 2.5 percent last fall for fiscal 2009. But for this fiscal year, the governor’s proposed budget replaces that 2.5 percent and increases general operating appropriations by an extra 1.1 percent.

Some other universities are facing cuts similar to the UI’s initial reductions earlier this year.

Purdue is asking each unit on campus to reduce their budgets by 2 percent for fiscal year 2010, said Melissa Johnson, the director of budget and fiscal planning.

The university is facing a 5.3 percent cut this year and another 2.8 percent next fiscal year, she said.
Because of budget constraints, Purdue will not have merit salary increases this year. And on-campus “teams” are working to identify additional cost-cutting measures.

Like Purdue, the University of Minnesota could bear severe shortfalls next year if the state budget continues to dwindle.

According to a Minnesota Board of Regents report, the school could be faced with a $50 million shortfall by 2012 and a $1.1 billion shortfall by 2025.

Minnesota normally relies on state support as its largest source of funding. With the current economic situation, state funds will only fill one-fifth of the university’s operating budget, according to the report.

Indiana University is confronting a 1 percent cut for the last fiscal year, affecting some construction. A Michigan State press release said general funds were reduced by 3 percent on a recurring basis.

And the University of Wisconsin-Madison will close its campus on Nov. 26 and 27 to help save money.

Even the privately funded Northwestern University is making sacrifices because of budget problems. The university implemented a 3.6 percent hike in undergraduate tuition this year, a 5 percent cut in operating expenses, and a limited salary increase, according to a news release.

But all options are still on the table for the UI, including a one-time tuition surcharge and layoffs.

The UI has faced three rounds of cuts this year — a 1.5 percent trim, followed by 7.5 and 10 percent hacks. Federal stimulus funding helped the UI deal with some of the initial cuts.

In the next two weeks, UI President Sally Mason will prepare suggestions for ridding $24.7 million, which she’ll present to the state Board of Regents on Oct. 29.


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