Op-Ed: University makes progress despite budget challenges

By on December 4, 2014

By James Ramsey, U of L President:

Despite imposing financial challenges, the University continues to make exceptional progress in meeting our commitment to the goals and mandates of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 (HB1).  Our seven-point business strategy has proven to be an effective guide in navigating the still-challenging economic climate while also retaining the highest of academic, research and public service standards.  The incoming fall 2014 freshmen class is distinguished by being the largest and the most academically prepared class in university history.

This year, the total operating budget for U of L and its related entities (i.e. Athletic Association, UofL Research Foundation and the UofL Foundation) is over $1.2 billion. You can find details on this budget on-line at http://louisville.edu/finance/budget/opuds/1415/opbudbook1415.  While it wasn’t a great budget and fiscal challenges continue to exist, we remain committed to doing all we can to keep the University on a trajectory of continued improvement and success.   We understand our students expect this when they decide to enroll here and, for the most part, we’re delivering.

Continuing U of L’s amazing upward trajectory has been made more difficult by the ongoing budget reductions from state government. U of L has sustained 14 state budget cuts in the past 14 years and is now receiving $10 million LESS in state funds than we received in 2001-02! So we have had to find other ways to finance university operations. We’re cutting energy and other costs while increasing fundraising, private-public partnerships and research and clinical income. This year, the U of L Foundation will transfer $142 million to the university which is quadruple the amount the foundation contributed in 2001-02 and more than the state’s share of our budget. Even more of U of L’s budget, $287 million, is coming from students in the form of tuition and fees. While our tuition rates are in the middle of the pack when compared to 17 benchmark institutions, we remain keenly sensitive to rising tuition rates and the potential adverse impact on students and their families.

While some universities are consciously expanding their enrollments by hundreds of students as a way to increase revenue, but perhaps hurt the quality of incoming students, we have not. We have instead chosen to continue managing costs and seek new ways via our 21st Century University initiative to streamline business operations and encourage more collaborations between academic and research units.

We understand the budget picture can look a bit grim. But there is also plenty of good news in this year’s budget. We have secured bond funding to renovate the Student Activities Center (SAC) which will give students additional meeting space. We will break ground on a new 155,000 sq. ft., state of the art classroom building in the middle of the Belknap Campus. The U of L Foundation hopes to begin demolishing three old residence halls (Wellness, Center and West) and start construction on a new student housing complex on the same piece of property. Part of the project will also include an overhaul of Stansbury Park, restoring it to its intended brilliance and making it a green campus jewel between 3rd and 4th streets.

Yes, the university’s budget touches all of us in different ways. So do the actions of our elected leaders who need to place priority on public higher education as it did in 1997 with the passage of HB1.

At U of L, we continue to our best, given the fiscal challenges we continue to face.  My optimism for the accomplishments the University of Louisville can achieve is limitless.  I hope you feel the same.  As always please do not hesitate to contact my office with your comments or thoughts about the budget process.

 

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