UNC president outlines budget cuts

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UNC President Andrew Feinstein met with KFKA radio station’s Gail Fallen in late January to discuss the university’s budget cuts and savings strategies. Photo courtesy of Feinstein’s Twitter account.

Andrew Feinstein plans to eliminate $10 million deficit by 2021

University of Northern Colorado President Andrew Feinstein outlined four major budget cuts to begin addressing the university’s $10 million structural deficit, which will be put in place for the coming fiscal year.

In the University Center Ballrooms on Jan. 29, Feinstein discussed these changes to the members of the UNC community for almost an hour and a half.

At the meeting, Feinstein outlined four courses of action to be implemented for the coming school year. Feinstein selected these options out of 13 proposals which were outlined in mid-January. During that time, members of the UNC community responded to these cost-saving actions at an open forum with Feinstein. The university summarized the results in 169 pages of comments, which Feinstein read through.

Three of the four cost-saving options that UNC will be moving forward with are on a university-wide level, while the last cost-saving option depicts goals that will be implemented on a divisional level.

The university-wide options would hopefully generate $1.5 million, according to Feinstein, but the remaining $8.5 million out of the $10 million would be at a divisional level. The university president made it clear he wanted to put the decision-making power in the hands of others at the university.

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“I am a big proponent of decentralizing the budget,” Feinstein said. “And I want to empower the VPs and deans to make the kinds of decisions that can’t be made effectively at the university level.”

The president’s office would work closely with vice presidents and deans, using guiding questions for decision-making focused on student success and limiting human impact, such as layoffs.

The division level budget cuts would use a functional-expense benchmark model. This model compares spending at UNC to eight similar institutions and the nine university competitors in Colorado.

The largest outlier in this analysis is student services, which UNC spends 76 percent more on than similar schools. The school also spends 23 percent more on academic support. Institution support spending is 15 percent lower and almost 60 percent less is spent on research and public service.

The divisional budget cuts are based on these discrepancies as the university tries to move the greatest outliers towards the median. That means functions that fall under student services will have the greatest budget reduction at 12.5 percent while research, due to its apparent underfunding, will not be touched.

These cuts are then divided into their respective divisions and no division will be untouched. For example, the president’s office has a cost-saving goal of $53,000, so Feinstein’s office would choose where to reduce spending. These cuts could come from the president’s salary, the salary of his office assistant, his travel budget or his spending budget.

This applies to many different departments. Athletics needs to cut $459,000 and the colleges at the university have an overall reduction goal of $3.91 million.

“There is no perfect way to calculate this, but I believe these are equitable,” Feinstein said. “They require every division to identify savings, and don’t ask too much of any one division.”

The divisional budget cuts are the most major changes and likely the ones that students will feel the most as individual divisions decide what to cut or where to reduce spending to meet cost-saving goals.

Alternatively, the three university-wide changes would have less of a direct effect on students.

Tuition will likely not be raised for undergraduate students in the coming school year because of a current proposal from Gov. Jared Polis. The proposal would increase state funding for the school by $4.2 million, on the condition undergrad tuition not increase. However, fees outside of tution, such as library and student service fees, would go up by a total of three percent and graduate tuition by five percent.

“It does put an increased strain on a lot of faculty and staff in terms of the financial contributions they’re making, the workload they might be taking on,” said Malaika Michel-Fuller, UNC’s student trustee. “So that could indirectly influence a student’s quality of schooling.”

The first university-wide change will increase faculty contributions to health care by $420 per individual or $1150 per family. This will raise the overall faculty contribution of total health care costs from 35 to 40 percent and lower the amount UNC contributes.

Feinstein said healthcare is a major cost to the university, which has increased by 37 percent since 2013. These changes would save the university an estimated $680,000 per year. Feinstein apologized to faculty and staff for this difficult change.

“I recognize that this is effectively a pay cut for employees,” he said. “And as I have said to you before, I am committed to finding a way to address faculty and staff salaries as we move forward.”

The next change affects the employee/dependent tuition waiver. Currently, UNC waives 100 percent of undergrad tuition for dependents and is the only Colorado university to do that. 

This change would reduce that waiver to 50 percent for dependents of employees hired after June 30. This would also entirely cut the graduate tuition waiver for any dependents of employees not enrolled before June 30.

This tuition waiver for dependents was a large concern for current employees. UNC freshman Kendra Myers’ father is a university employee, and she receives this tuition waiver.

“I need that money so I can come here,” Myers said. “So that definitely could affect me and not in a good way.”

Employees of the university would continue to get nine credits hours for undergrad or graduate work waived.

The last university-wide change is an early-retirement incentive for faculty. This option is not guaranteed as the benefits must outweigh the costs, and vacancies must remain unfilled or filled at a lower salary.

Immediate savings from this measure would be limited initially but could eventually generate $1.2 million depending on how workload is addressed.

Vice presidents will submit their budget savings by March 8 to be finalized for the coming fiscal year. Changes will be implemented July 1, when the next fiscal year begins. More information on the buget cuts can be found on the UNC Office of the President website.

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