Budget, Enrollment, Raises - the Usual Suspects

Good afternoon! Hard to believe that we are about half way through this semester, isn’t it? It’s that time of year when the first doubts about finishing that “to do” list for the semester start creeping into your mind (at least, into MY mind), to be temporarily pushed aside with thoughts of “I can still get that done”. So, what are we trying to get done in Academic Affairs this semester?

THE BUDGET: We had a good outcome from the Legislature this year, as I’ve previously mentioned. After chewing through the numbers, we have determined that these gains were somewhat offset by unrealized revenue (e.g. tuition waivers mandated by the state) or actual increased expenses (e.g. System assessments, additional scholarship money to entice freshmen). Everyone’s hard and difficult work last year through the hiring freeze means that we will avoid further staff layoffs and be able to move ahead with key faculty and staff searches. However, we are still going to be short on funds to increase M&O, funds to provide much needed general equipment, etc. We continue to look closely at every source of revenue – of course, the big dog in that regard is tuition rate. We are exploring tuition increases, but enrollment/retention also is a key part of our revenue growth, not to mention all-important student success. So, on the topic of enrollment…..

ENROLLMENT: It’s not clear if we’ll quickly (or ever) return to the halcyon days of 3-5% annual enrollment increase by virtue of us all just showing up in late summer. For one thing, we are progressively raising admission standards, essentially becoming much more selective. At the same time, competition in the Metroplex and beyond for these top students is greater. And, weirdly, there is a projected decrease in Texas high school graduates for the next year before it takes off again through 2020. Plus, we simply don’t know the full consequences of a torn up I-35E. Right now, our enrollment predictions (increasingly accurate, by the way) suggest that we will need to continue with some special interventions include providing additional monies for creating scholarships, and increasing our already strong efforts to increase student success and retention. These efforts include — for the first time at UNT — mandatory advising for First Time in College (FTIC) students, which we believe will have a significant impact on retention of those students. Incidentally, our thanks to all our professional and faculty advisors, as well as to all of you who engage in ongoing formal and informal student advising and mentoring. Our enrollment and student success planning is a work in progress at every level of the institution; I’ll keep you posted…

SUMMER SESSION: The discussion of how to “fix” summer session continues at full volume. Several individuals as well as departments and colleges have asked why we don’t simply offer larger numbers of more profitable courses in the summer, as they would be good for students as well as “money-makers”. This is a great question! The truth is we have no “up front” investment money. Deans are struggling to cover all the courses they have to in the regular academic year, and sometimes have to draw from the summer session budget to achieve this. The decrease in summer school enrollment over the last few years is due in part to the fact that we have not grown the overall academic budgets, and summer school is the “emergency bank account” that has been drawn upon in the recent past. Let me assure you that we are putting our heads together to break this cycle, create some financial investment funding, and re-invent summer school to everyone’s benefit. This includes examining different summer school funding models (and different models for faculty remuneration). Note, however, that it took us years to get into this pattern, and I don’t believe we’ll get out in a single year. If you have creative summer school thoughts or ideas, be sure to send them along to our Director of Summer Session, Dave McEntire (david.mcentire@unt.edu).

MERIT RAISES! An announcement has just come out from the President about merit raises for faculty and staff http://inhouse.unt.edu/merit-raises-will-be-awarded-effective-jan-1-2014 This funding will be available January 1st. You can read in the President’s announcement about how faculty merit raises will be determined in Academic Affairs. Some of you have reasonably asked “Why didn’t this merit raise start September 1st?” If the truth be told, we didn’t know how big the future merit raise pool could be when we were closing out last year’s the budget. We would have needed to be far more frugal with the total pool if we had moved forward in time for September raises. In any event, financial advisors will tell you that it is far better in the medium to long term to have gotten a larger raise in January than a smaller raise the preceding September.