State’s Budget Reduction Hurts,
Signals Profound Challenge
Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) president Dr. Ray Keck isn’t mincing words. He says budget cuts for Texas higher education will hurt TAMIU and signal a profound challenge for the State’s colleges and universities.
Dr. Keck met with members of the press Monday afternoon to share the University’s action plan in light of the State’s 18% budget reduction for TAMIU. He made it clear that the University will face real challenges with a Spartan budget that impacts a young University with mushrooming enrollment growth.
“We are bloodied, but unbowed. Like all of Texas’ public universities, we are deeply concerned with the reductions in State funding and the potential for lasting damage that we believe they may represent. All universities are thriving engines of community change and betterment: driving growth, business investments and quality of life enhancements. That engine has been effectively slowed by this Legislative Session,” Keck observed.
He noted that this Session’s reductions were initially fed by cuts mandated by the Governor prior to the start of the Session, bringing the overall reduction to a staggering $9.2 million of the University’s biennial operating budget ($4.6 million each year).
“It’s important to realize that this young University, more than older institutions, is dependent on so-called Special Item funding, a misnomer for funding that actually represents base funding and supports the bulk of faculty salaries and degree program delivery. Despite valiant efforts by our legislative team of Sen. Zaffirini, Rep. Guillen and Rep. Pena Raymond, these cuts have been sustained,” he explained.
He focused on three areas of direct TAMIU budget reduction impact: students, programs and operations, and provided examples of the reductions that the new University budget will impose.
“Let me address the first area of impact, on students. First of all, we have strategically allocated this sharply reduced State budget so as not to slow our students’ progress. We are committed to their success and to making this University the vehicle for that success. Student recruitment, retention and timely graduation will remain our primary concern. Class sizes will grow, but we will remain responsive to student needs.
“Our TAMIU student services and athletics programs will not be affected as they are not funded by State appropriation and restricted in allocation. However, financial aid provided by the State of Texas, like the TEXAS Grant, will be reduced. We will work with our students to secure other assistance, scholarships or loans,” he continued.
“Moving to the impact on programs: We have been fortunate that program development has long been tied to our explosive enrollment growth. We are committed to continued growth and relevant programs that drive student learning forward. This budget reduction for programs will be felt primarily in the reduction of adjunct faculty hires and larger faculty teaching loads,” Keck indicated.
“Operations will suffer the biggest reductions. While we have always practiced frugality and excellent stewardship, that practice is now mandate. The initial drumbeats signaling anticipated budget shortfalls were heard in 2005 and we reviewed our staffing levels then, targeting efficiencies to eliminate 10 administrative or teaching positions. For this budget, we have frozen all University salaries, and no staff merit increases will be awarded this budget year.
“We do not currently anticipate a reduction in force, but this will be monitored carefully. Some 11 positions, many planned to service our dramatic student enrollment growth, will not be filled. A Voluntary Separation Program was offered to employees. Employee share of insurance costs will rise. Employee travel and professional education, growth and development programs have been significantly reduced or cut entirely. Statewide, there is a possibility of furloughs, which the University may consider,” he explained.
Keck said the University is identifying other revenue streams that can assist the University and cautions that other cost increases must realistically be a part of any future-focused discussion.
“As president of this institution, the last thing that I want to do is raise tuition or fees, but as a State agency we have few options to restore funding. There is no taxing district for this University, no locally provided entitlement, no Permanent University Fund. No tuition increases have been authorized by our Board of Regents for the 2011-2012 school year. Fee increases and referenda, as graciously approved by the student body vote, have gone forward, providing crucial funding for academic program development and scholarship support. These remain avenues that can be explored for the 2012-2013 school year. State tuition revenue bonds, fundamental to TAMIU’s physical expansion, probably can’t be considered until 2013,” he said.
State Senator Judith Zaffirini offered her thoughts on TAMIU and higher education funding in a written statement.
“I voted against the appropriations bill because it significantly underfunds higher education, public education and health and human services," Senator Zaffirini said.
"As Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee I was extremely disappointed that the state budget underfunds higher education by more than $960 million. As a result, fewer students will receive state financial aid via the TEXAS Grant and B-On-Time Loan programs, and great institutions like Texas A&M International University that rely on special item funding will be impacted disproportionately. Instead of closing the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence and research, this budget broadens the gaps and puts college out of reach for thousands of Texas families.
"What's more, because construction costs and interest rates are lower than usual and because the economy is improving, this was the perfect time to invest creatively and responsibly by authorizing tuition revenue bonds for university construction projects. Because of the lack of foresight by certain key leaders, however, the effort failed and was not funded.
"The voices of students, faculty, administrators and parents continue to make a difference," Zaffirini added, "Were it not for our collaboration in championing higher education funding, the cuts would have been even worse," she concluded.
Noting the support of University donors and partners, Keck said the University has been a true beneficiary of philanthropic partnerships.
“Partnerships with those who share in the vision of TAMIU will be fundamental to our continued growth and to insuring that there be no reduction in quality or compromise in mission,” he said.
“Rest assured, we will work diligently to fully realize our mission with the precious State resources provided, paired with collaborations and philanthropic partnerships that are the blessings and hallmarks of all great universities. We will endure… but our journey forward really must be shared like never before,” he opined.
For Keck, whose optimism is infectious, these are times that try even the most stalwart of optimists.
“The people of Laredo and South Texas built this remarkable engine of personal and public growth. So many worked so hard to make TAMIU the regional University of choice for a long under-served area. We daily see the difference the University makes in the lives of our students and the communities and region we serve. Every day I have a student, a graduate or a community member tell me how lives have been changed by TAMIU.
“This first year of this budget will be a challenge, and the next even more so. We believe in our University and our State, but join others across the State who are finding it hard to fathom that the investment in education, pivotal to any great city, state or nation, has been so greatly diminished,” he concluded.
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