The UNT System Board of Regents met last month and approved UNT’s FY21 operating budget. As you know, this is a difficult time financially for UNT and every other university in the country. In the face of a challenging fiscal environment, Academic Affairs has engaged in strategic budget reductions and reallocations. During Fiscal Year 19-20, Academic Affairs reduced its budget by $6.9M. For Fiscal Year 20-21, across Academic Affairs, we have implemented a 5% budget cut and are prepared for an 8% budget cut—which would total $15.3M in reductions. A decision regarding implementing the budget cuts we are prepared for will be made based on our financial conditions, which are driven by public health conditions, in the coming months. These reductions will include reduced maintenance and operations funds, reduced summer and adjunct teaching funds, the postponement of hiring and the elimination of primarily vacant positions.
Despite these challenges, we will not lose focus on advancing the institution in three priority areas:
Goal: We will support, communicate and celebrate a dedicated culture of scholarly activity at UNT to expand UNT’s innovative impact for our students and our community.
UNT has made enormous progress in building the scholarly environment. This year is the Carnegie reporting year, and we are in the process of submitting our progress. In the three years since the last measurement was taken, we have grown the tenure-track/tenured faculty by 14%, increased the number of doctoral graduates by 16%, increased the number of post-docs by 20%, and our research expenditures have almost doubled. I encourage us all to take a moment to reflect on the hard work our colleagues have invested to reach this level of achievement.
Our faculty growth would have been even higher had it not been for the need to engage in a hiring freeze and voluntary separation agreement program. Even with this short-term setback, our budget is positioning us for continued progress. This year we are allocating approximately $3.7M in HEF funds that are dedicated toward start-up packages for anticipated new faculty hires once we begin hiring again. An additional $7.7M are allocated for improvements to faculty and staff computing, classroom upgrades, research equipment and other initiatives in support of scholarly activity. We will be able to engage in limited faculty searches this year, representing approximately 65% of our vacant faculty positions. The remainder of positions are being held until there is greater budget certainty. Details of the hiring plan will be provided to colleges by October 1st.
Goal: We will empower and transform our students in their educational and social environments to set them up for lifelong learning success.
Student retention has been a major focus over the last year and will continue to be a high priority effort. I am pleased to report that our Drop, Fail, Withdraw and Incomplete rate fell 3.5% this spring, and more students succeeding in their classes leads to stronger student retention. This success is demonstrated in our highest First Time in College retention rate—82%—this fall.
As we increase our portion of remote teaching and engage in socially distanced teaching on campus, we have invested $1.4M in technology to support effective teaching. We also invested $1.5M to add additional sections to support socially distanced classes.
We are committed to keeping a UNT education affordable. Tuition Benefit Plan—a critical component of our research infrastructure that supports student success—was prioritized and protected as part of the budget reduction process. The availability of $4M in federal CARES funding and $4.6M from the Texas Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund have enabled us to assist many of our students who are struggling to stay in school due to financial challenges.
Goal: We will attract, develop and celebrate our campus community to make UNT an outstanding environment in which to work and learn.
While our resources are limited this year we are committing approximately $277,000 towards faculty promotion and tenure increases and recognizing distinguished faculty.
Our progress in strengthening our research standing, growing enrollment, and increasing top-ranked programs is only possible with the efforts of our faculty and staff. I am proud of where we are as a university, of our response to these extraordinary circumstances, and of our resilience which will allow us to emerge from this pandemic soaring even higher.