Budget Challenges Ahead
No one can dispute that the recent Trustees’ decision to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is wonderful news for Maine students and their families who have been struggling to pay the rising costs of tuition for many years. The Trustees’ vote is an important step toward helping more students enroll in our programs and stay through graduation.
Over the years, the University’s budget has relied ever more heavily on tuition dollars as state resources available for public higher education have declined.
Consequently, the financial impact of the freeze on our budget, combined with the precarious nature of the state budget and our own enrollment challenges, force us to yet again confront very significant budget cuts in fiscal year 2013, which begins on July 1, 2012.
The estimated target for reductions in our upcoming FY 2013 budget is $5.1 million.
The system-wide analysis of the freeze’s financial impact is not yet complete. Consequently, the targeted cut could very well change. Nevertheless, I feel it important to share with you what we know at this stage and to map out the steps we are taking to address this issue. I am confident that we will be successful in doing so as long as we keep lines of communication open and work together.
As a first step, I have asked managers in the major units across the institution (Academic Affairs, Chief Operating Officer, Human Resources, President’s Office, School of Law, University Advancement) to work with their reports to model the potential impact of the estimated $5.1 million cut on their areas, based on a formula that will soon be established. I expect those reports on February 15. I also am asking that the Resource Allocation Committee (the Provost, the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Operating Officer and the VP for Human Resources) to compile details on all unfilled positions and establish even more stringent criteria to guide decisions on whether to fill positions or create new ones.
Armed with this information, and informed by the goals of our Strategic Plan, we will go through the process of finalizing a combination of reductions and investments that will balance the budget and position us for growth moving forward.
All of our work to reduce administrative costs and create a more interdisciplinary academic structure over the last three and a half years will serve us well as we face the current budgetary challenges. However, it is now clear that we must respond with renewed creativity and imagination if we are to compete effectively for new students of all ages and to increase revenue to support the critical work that we do.
Our community support is solid. Our students continue to earn recognition for their work in regional, national, and even international fora. Our faculty and staff have rolled up their sleeves and are working together to create new programs and explore new funding possibilities.
The work ahead will be hard, but we will build a stronger institution, one that is indispensable to our region’s future. We will continue to enhance the vitality of our communities, advance their economic development, and build our state’s competitive advantage in the global economy.
No New SIF Funds for FY 2013
We have just been notified that no new Strategic Investment Funds (SIF) will be awarded for fiscal year 2013. The System established the SIF program by pooling a percentage of the state appropriation, thereby creating shared resources to be awarded to campuses on a competitive basis to fund new initiatives. To help ease the financial impact of the tuition freeze on the campuses, Trustees have directed that 1 percent of the appropriation be dedicated to SIF, rather than the 3 percent. The 1 percent will fund existing, multi-year projects but there will be no funds for new awards. I want to thank those of you who submitted first-time SIF proposals for 2013. The creative thinking that generated these proposals will be needed as we decide how to balance our budget through a combination of cuts and investments.
NEASC Accreditation Approved
The Commission on Institutions of Higher Education has voted to continue our NEASC accreditation. The Commission has scheduled our next, comprehensive evaluation for the spring of 2021. In continuing the accreditation, we were commended for our, “…thorough and candid self-study that portrays an institution with a passion for serving its students and confidence in its ability to fulfill its mission as an urban, public, comprehensive university in the state of Maine.”
The Commission also requested a report in the fall of 2013 that outlines our progress in building our capacity in institutional research, and focuses on development of an inclusive process that maps out a “…comprehensive and systematic approach to program review and assessment of student learning across all academic programs and using the results for improvement.” The Provost will be discussing with the Academic Council the implementation of this latter issue. We also are required to submit an interim evaluation in the spring of 2016.
Thank you again to the members of the NEASC Steering Committee for their critically important work. This process provided us with valuable opportunities to reflect thoughtfully on USM so that we can continue to carry out our mission.
A Debut Novel
We have many causes to celebrate at USM. In particular, our students and alumni continue to shine, bringing distinction to themselves, their professions, and their communities.
USM alumna Morgan Callan Rogers, who received her B.A. in English in 1988 and completed the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing in 2004, was back on campus last week for a book release party at the USM Bookstore. Viking Press has published her debut novel, “Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea,” which chronicles the coming of age of the daughter of a lobsterman. Reports are that the book already is a best-seller in Germany, and will be published later this year in Spain, Italy, and Australia. Morgan credits Associate Professor of English Dianne Benedict and also is grateful for the graduate-level education she received in Stonecoast. “I thank USM for having the wisdom to start this program,” she told us, “and I’m happy to have been part of the inaugural class.” For photos and comments on the joyous Bookstore celebration, go to the photo album on USM’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USouthernMaine).