Looking into this academic school year, the challenge confronting the University of Minnesota administration boils down to one principle: doing more with less.
Administrators are faced with financing a public institution and remaining competitive amid another year of budget cuts.
“State funding is very tight,” Board of Regents Chairwoman Linda Cohen said. “How do you finance education and focus on excellence?”
Amid criticism of administrative bloat, efficiency is high on President Eric Kaler‘s priority list.
Making the University more efficient will be a long process, Kaler said, but students can expect to see some results a year from now.
“We’ll have a team come together and decide whether we need to have an external consultant to help us sort that out, or whether we have the talent and capacity internally to get that done,” Kaler said. In the meantime, the Office of Human Resources is conducting a job classification program in order to identify duplications within the University’s administrative system.
In July’s special legislative session, the University was allocated $50 million more than expected for the next two years. Kaler will lay out his plans to spend the money at Friday’s regents meeting.
About $4 million of that money will go toward tuition relief in the spring, awarding an average of $310 to 13,400 low-and-middle income in-state U Promise Scholarship students, according to Kaler’s recommended amendments to the University’s budget.
“Right now, since the year’s already started, we can’t do much for fall, but we’ll do the appropriate part for spring, and then we’ll make some investments and things that we need to get done.”
Kaler recommends using $8.3 million in 2013 to soften a planned undergraduate tuition hike — cutting it from 5 percent to 3.5 percent — according to a University press release.
“We don’t want to raise tuition precipitously over and over,” Cohen said.
Another $8 million of the money will go toward hiring new faculty and to the restoration of funding to health science programs like the Medical Education and Research Costs program, the School of Dentistry, the veterinary diagnostic program and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
Roughly $6.5 million will go toward doctoral dissertation fellowships and construction projects at the Morris and Crookston campuses, and $6.1 million will be used for investments and saved to prepare for any state cuts made in 2012.
“If they’ve got another deficit, there’s a risk that — in the spring legislative session — the [University] could face cuts again,” Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said.
While the revised budget still is a 7.8 percent cut from the last biennium, having $50 million to patch the programs he cares about isn’t a bad way for Kaler to start the first two years of his presidency, Pfutzenreuter said.
“It’s too bad when you feel good that the cut isn’t as bad as it could have been,” he said.
Like his predecessor, former President Bob Bruininks, one of Kaler’s goals is to make the University one of the top three research institutions in the country. That means keeping its standards high in order to recruit and retain top-notch staff, he said.
“Given the fact that funding has been pretty much flat for several years, the [University’s] researchers have been very successful at winning grants,” said John Merritt, spokesman for the Vice President of Research.
But the uncertainty of federal funding, from agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, is a major concern for the University, he added. Money from federal entities makes up roughly 70 percent of the University’s grant funds for research, Merritt said, and it has started to shrink. Additionally, the application process for federal research grants has become more competitive.
But more than the University’s national standing as a research institution is at stake, Merritt said. As American universities compete for federal funding, countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan have significantly increased the amount of government funding to research and development.
Central to both research and faculty retention are facilities. The regents will focus on which projects to include in the University’s capital bonding request to the state Legislature in the coming months. Among the projects being considered are a new ambulatory care clinic, a makeover for Eddy Hall and renovations to the University’s utility plant building.
The University’s Board of Regents will follow a four-point work plan for the next two years as it faces the challenge of maintaining a high standard of quality: long and short-term financial operating models, strengthening the board’s relationship with the state, supporting the health sciences and improving how the board itself works.
That work plan, established at July’s annual regents’ retreat, will be at the heart of their first full meeting of the academic school year Friday, Cohen said.
“One of my own goals is to make sure we’re utilizing the talent of each individual regent,” she said.
Also on the regents’ minds is the University’s relationship to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which competes with the University for state funding.
“What are areas that the [University] does best and what does MNSCU do best?” Cohen asked. “What are areas where we should overlap and areas where we shouldn’t?”