University of Akron officials said Tuesday they will take actions in coming months to try to close a $26.7 million budget gap projected for 2014.
At a meeting before a couple of hundred faculty and staff members, top administrators said the university has a critical need to reduce costs, improve efficiency, find new streams of revenue and increase enrollment.
They blamed the negative outlook largely on a $14 million loss in federal stimulus funds and a 3.5 percent dip in fall 2012 enrollment.
“We just have to deal with it,” President Luis Proenza told the packed room. “I invite you to be part of the solution. I understand the travails of doing more with less.”
UA faced a similar budget shortfall this year, but it patched together a solution through one-time fixes, employee attrition and departmental reductions.
Now, the university must align its resources “in a sustainable budget model, so that we can be nimble, seize opportunities for growth and achieve our goals,” Proenza said in a campuswide memo Monday.
Chief Financial Officer David Cummins said part of the problem is that 93 percent of UA’s revenue comes from enrollment.
State appropriations to UA have remained virtually unchanged during the past decade: $90.4 million in 2003 and $90.6 million last year. The university received $104.7 million in total appropriations, including the stimulus money, last year.
While the number of student credit hours grew 30 percent during the past decade, UA banked on stronger enrollments last year as well as this year that didn’t materialize. The problem was retention, not initial freshman enrollment.
The university “has been slow to react to the external forces that demand a transformation in the way we deliver our primary product,” UA Provost Mike Sherman said in an email to employees earlier this month.
So the university is exploring options that include boosting enrollment in “new traditional students,” such as veterans and adult learners, to finding new sources of revenue to reducing year-round work schedules for some employees.
In Monday’s email to campus, Proenza also said the university might hold salaries, wages and benefits constant for at least two years for all employees.
That possibility comes on the heels of a vote last month by about 340 clerical workers and other staff to join the Communications Workers of America to negotiate for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
At the same time, the UA chapter of the American Association of University Professors is poised to begin talks on a new contract to replace the current one that expires in December.
In communications to full-time faculty, the AAUP already has expressed concern that officials are trying to improve the university’s finances by increasing their workload without talking to them first.
They say there is no evidence that forcing them to teach more courses would fix the deficit. It only would reduce the number of part-timers hired for a small fraction of the full-time faculties’ salaries.
Cummins said UA also might offer new courses to spur enrollment, ax unsustainable initiatives and programs and combine services to reduce redundancies.
In the mix to bring in more revenue is a proposed 2 percent increase in undergraduate tuition this fall, which appears to be the state-imposed limit. Meanwhile, Ohio State and the University of Toledo have announced tuition freezes for the coming year.
At the forum, employees expressed concerns about not having enough full-time faculty in their departments and made suggestions to improve the bottom line.
The latter included everything from holding a rock concert at InfoCision Stadium to using wind and solar power to having top administrators teach courses.
UA will hold a second campus forum at 9 a.m. today in Kolbe Hall.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.