A Message from the President
December 9, 2009 - Budget update to faculty and staff
As the end of the fall semester and the beginning of the holiday break approach, I thought it would be an appropriate time to update the campus on some issues of importance, including budget developments and the actions to date of the Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission (LaPERC).
From my prior campus communications, you know that Southeastern has thus far sustained a reduction in state appropriations of $10.7 million. While this reduction resulted in significant decreases in operating resources, as well as furloughs, layoffs, and the elimination of a number of vacant positions, considerable effort was expended to protect the core academic mission of the institution, particularly our current instructional capacity to serve students.
State budget projections for the next two fiscal years indicate additional shortfalls, the most dire of which will be for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. While it is clear that these state budget challenges will impact higher education, what is less clear is the exact magnitude of future higher ed cuts, and their specific impact on Southeastern.
One possible clue of the potential magnitude might be discerned from Governor Jindal’s communication to LaPERC, in which he charged the Commission with identifying $146 million in cost efficiencies for next fiscal year. If the Governor’s executive budget for next fiscal year was to reflect a reduction of that amount for higher education, and if Southeastern’s share of that cut was based on the same proportionate amount as our share of the total higher ed budget cut this year, we could expect an additional budget reduction of approximately $9 million. This figure does not reflect any additional resources that might be made available through possible tuition increases or legislative relief.
Clearly, this would represent a very difficult budget reduction to manage, particularly given the level of reduction already absorbed. As we move into early spring, it will be necessary to make more definitive assessments about next year’s budget for purposes of decisions such as building class schedules, etc. We will continue to work closely with members of our legislative delegation and leadership of the University of Louisiana System and Board of Regents to refine budget projections for this purpose.
One thing is certain, we along with faculty and staff at many other colleges and universities across the country will need to continue to be very deliberate in our efforts to contain operating costs wherever possible. We continue to work in multiple ways to achieve efficiencies that will help mitigate current and future budget cuts. For example, we have begun changing the way we transport students or other groups to off-campus events in order to capture savings on maintenance and operation costs for university-owned vehicles. Similarly, our Office of Technology upgraded telephone system software in order to reduce operating and maintenance costs of our telephone system.
In recent days I have learned that some members of our campus community expressed concern about the holiday lights on campus given current budget constraints. While the estimated cost of operating the lights is fairly nominal, representing only a few hundred dollars, given these concerns the decision has been made to have fewer lights turned on for fewer hours over fewer days than in prior years. Because of the nominal cost impact, I believe that it is important to preserve some of the holiday spirit of the season. Please trust, however, that we will exercise appropriate prudence in this and all activities that impact our operating costs.
Postsecondary Education Review Commission Update
One of the other significant issues currently unfolding in Louisiana is the work of two commissions attempting to address inefficiencies in state government: the Streamlining Commission, chaired by Senator Jack Donahue of Mandeville, which is tasked with making recommendations to help identify and eliminate inefficiencies in all of state government other than higher education; and LaPERC, chaired by Senator Ben Nevers of Bogalusa, which is tasked with making recommendations to help identify and eliminate inefficiencies in higher education.
While both commissions are important and have implications for higher education, naturally LaPERC potentially has the most direct bearing. To date, this Commission has made a number of recommendations to the Louisiana Board of Regents, which include targeted graduation rate improvement through increased admission standards; refinement of institutional role, scope and mission; and review and elimination of duplicative and/or inefficient programs. The specific recommendations can be reviewed in full detail on the LaPERC web page at http://www.laperc.org/ with specific motions reproduced in the “meetings” section.
What is very clear to me through all of this is that Southeastern is fortunate in two regards. First, we are lucky to be located where we are - in a growing and dynamic region of Louisiana. Second, we have been and continue to be on a path of strategic improvement and success that has served us well and can continue to serve us well. Specifically, we have:
- focused our recruiting efforts on students who are prepared to be successful in a university environment;
- prioritized student success as defined by student retention, progression and graduation in a timely manner;
- created new degree programs that stress economic and workforce development needs of our region of the state; and
- strived to operate efficiently, offering an outstanding value to our constituents.
Every day I become more convinced that we are uniquely positioned to successfully navigate the current turbulent times. Make no mistake, there are significant challenges ahead as we and others struggle with diminished resources, but there are also unprecedented opportunities. As we seek new ideas to allow us to effectively deal with our challenges, we will identify bold new strategies to foster student success and serve southeast Louisiana.
It is absolutely clear that these two themes emerge from all of the diverse viewpoints and discussion: 1) intense focus on the unique needs of our service region, and 2) further improvement in student success, particularly as measured by graduation rate.
About this same time last year I initiated a small Task Force to begin work reviewing our recruiting and student success strategies. Since that time, members of that group have been working with others around campus to collect data, evaluate our prior recruiting and retention strategies for effectiveness and current relevance, and generally create a framework and process for a more comprehensive overhaul of recruiting/retention strategies. Based on these efforts, in the near future we will be announcing a detailed process and time line to identify and implement specific strategies and actions to drive targeted improvement in graduation rates. Among many other changes, it is expected that these actions will include a meaningful increase in admission criteria.
While I remain concerned and cautious about present and future financial circumstances, I am excited about our prospects for achieving new successes. I look forward to working with all of you to accomplish these important goals. I hope you and yours enjoy a well-earned holiday break.