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UND asks departments to trim back academic year budgets

GRAND FORKS - UND's academic departments are being asked to trim back their projected budgets for the 2008-2009 academic year, university officials said, a result of a lower than hoped for student enrollment in recent years and new costs, includi...

GRAND FORKS - UND's academic departments are being asked to trim back their projected budgets for the 2008-2009 academic year, university officials said, a result of a lower than hoped for student enrollment in recent years and new costs, including a slate of student scholarships and the school's transition to NCAA Division I athletics.

The cuts, totaling about $1.2 million across the school's academic affairs division, will mean less professional travel for university faculty and staff and a reduction in some of the school's sponsored events and extracurricular activities, university officials said.

By and large though, UND Provost Greg Weisenstein said, it should not affect the school's educational programs.

"It's been more of a tightening process," Weisenstein said. "That means we have to be careful about how we use dollars for travel, professional development, supplies, things like that. What we've tried to stay away from are any kinds of reductions in personnel, particularly in our teaching faculty, whether full time or part time. We want to minimize the impact of any reallocation on the quality of what we do and the services we provide to students.

"We've been effective at doing that," Weisenstein continued. "I don't think our current reallocation will have any real impact, in the short run at least, on the quality of our educational program. Over time, if we continue to experience reallocations ... then it would have an impact on the quality of what we do. But I don't anticipate that."


The target budget for the school's academic affairs division for the 2008-'09 school year is actually larger than the target for the 2007-'08 year ending now, up from $74.6 million to $77.1 million, according to figures provided by UND's Budget Office. But that increase is more than wiped out by the average 5 percent salary hike for faculty provided by the state and similar raises for academic staff.

Those numbers only reflect state appropriations and projected tuition revenue, not other school income, ranging from research grants to parking fees.

Weisenstein discussed implementing some budget cuts before spring semester this year in an e-mail to staff, but ultimately said they would not be necessary. While the university adjusts its budget to some extent every year, Weisenstein said, this is the largest cut in nonsalary budget items since he came to UND three years ago.

Weisenstein said he does not know whether there's been a similar cut since the school recovered from a steep enrollment decline after the Flood of 1997.

Other university divisions, such as facilities and student services also are being asked to trim back their nonsalary budgets, said Budget Director Alice Brekke. Overall, the school's target budget from state money and tuition, including salaries, is set at $123.6 million, up from $119.8 million last year, she said.

The $1.2 million academic affairs budget cut will be spread across the universities colleges and schools based on a series of performance indicators, the most important of which is whether the school has been gaining or losing enrollment, Weisenstein said.

The school's Colleges of Business and Public Administration and Nursing and School of Engineering, for example, have remained steady or raised enrollment in recent years, he said, and so won't be asked to trim back significantly.

The College of Education and Human Development, and UND's hallmark John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, on the other hand, have lost enrollment in recent years and are being asked to make more significant cuts.


On average, the schools are being asked to trim about 2 percent of their nonsalary budgets, Weisenstein said. Hardest hit will be College of Arts and Sciences, UND's largest academic division, which has seen the most significant enrollment loss.

Because all undergraduate students take general education classes through the arts and sciences college, Weisenstein said, it's typical that a university-wide enrollment drop will be most reflected in that school.

Weisenstein said he plans to absorb about 10 percent of the cuts within the provost's office and, overall, about $500,000 in cuts will be borne by academic affairs administrators rather than teaching units.

UND enrollment peaked at slightly more than 13,000 students in 2004, but has been on a steady decline ever since, a result, university administrators have said, of raised admission standards and troubles in the airline industry since Sept. 11 which have hurt UND's aerospace enrollment.

The school expects to rebound from its recent enrollment dip next year, Weisenstein said, in part because of a new scholarship that cuts $1,000 off tuition for roughly the upper half of entering freshmen.

Applications from potential entering freshmen are up about 6 percent over this time last year, Weisenstein said, with similar gains in applications from graduate students. But the flip side of increased enrollment with the new scholarship is less tuition revenue per student.

Brekke said it's too early in the application season for a reliable estimate of how much money the school will have to come up with to pay for those scholarships. A separate new scholarship will pay half tuition for dependants of university employees. Brekke said the cost of that scholarship could range anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000, based on university estimates extrapolated from a similar program at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

In total, Weisenstein estimated, over half of the academic affairs cuts are due to new student scholarships, though Brekke said it is too early to say that definitively.


"I don't want people to lose sight of that," Weisenstein said. "(Those scholarships) will directly benefit students and allow students to access the institution that may not have been able to do that without financial help. So, I'm very pleased to do that, and I'm very optimistic about what that's going to do for our overall enrollment picture."

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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