“We can’t keep cutting ourselves and expecting great things to happen,” said Murray State University’s new President Bob Jackson at a budget and tuition forum on Thursday.
Murray State and other public universities have endured severe budget cuts over the past several years. “It’s not healthy for the institution from a teaching and learning and academic standpoint,” Jackson said. “We can never forget why we’re here: to educate the students of this region.”
Enrollment growth is a top priority for Jackson. He’s described this effort as “moving the needle” and “right-sizing.” The current headcount is around 9,500 students. “We need to be bigger than that,” he said. According to a slide, the goal is between 10,500 to 10,750.
Jackson said it’s too early to project fall numbers, but he’s encouraged by early indicators: Summer O sign-ups, visits to campus, housing deposits. He said he feels good about the metrics involving the incoming freshmen class, transfer students, the graduate class and international students.
Tuition & Fees
Murray State University is planning a 1% undergraduate tuition and fees increase in the next academic year. Graduate and doctoral rates will not change. The increase is expected to generate $740,000. Dollar-wise, a resident, full-time student would see an increase of about $42 dollars for a semester. Non-residents would see an increase of about $126.
A graduate online fee would be reduced from $100 to $50 per credit hour. A new “asset preservation fee” of $7 per credit hour would be used for deferred maintenance or asset preservation for instructional buildings. Jackson said other Kentucky institutions have similar asset preservation fees. He estimated this fee would generate around $1 million.
The university is also proposing a 2% rate increase for certain residential colleges and a 2.63% rate increase for meal plans.
Jackson said he wants to keep tuition and fees as low as possible and said Murray State is a “great value” compared to regional states and other public institutions in Kentucky. He noted the number shown in the presentation are “gross numbers” not “net numbers” that families pay because last year the university awarded $44 million in scholarships, waivers and grants.
More On The Budget
Budget challenges in the current fiscal year include navigating enrollment challenges, however, spring 2019 numbers came in slightly better than expected, so this year is $2.3 million short of budget projections, should summer estimates come in as planned. That $2.3 million is being covered by a $2 million contingency and the remainder covered by one-time savings.
Looking ahead, budget challenges are declining appropriation, performance funding, pension costs, prior year enrollment decline, reductions and reallocations, maintaining quality academic programs and student success and affordability. Jackson said performance funding “does not benefit Murray State University. At least, it has not to date.” Murray State is expecting to get $0 - or less in performance funding. He said a workgroup is being formed to negotiate a better model.
Nearly 30 positions are being eliminated in the next budget, but there won’t be any resulting job loss. “None of those positions have anyone in them,” Jackson said. “They’re due to retirements. They’re due to vacancies that have existed for a while. Those are the positions being eliminated, so no one is being impacted by these decisions.” One notable elimination is the Vice President of University Advancement, which was held by Adrienne King prior to her departure in January. That area includes alumni affairs, development, fundraising, branding, marketing, communications, printing and publications. Those departments will now report to the president.
Other proposed budget items include a 1% COLA, implementing the third phase of raising the pay rate of the lowest-paid full-time staff, investing in campus health service improvements, online program enhancement and recruitment and marketing funding.
Facilities Projects & Deferred Maintenance
An increase of $1 million will go towards deferred maintenance. Numerous facilities improvement projects are underway. Much of this is due to the outsourcing of dining services to Sodexo and the subsequent construction of a Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Einstein Bros. Bagels and other changes to dining areas.
Other projects include adding spaces to the Curris Center parking lot, restoring JH Richmond Hall (taken offline following an explosion in 2017) by early August and repairing infrastructure in Waterfield Library, renovations to Blackburn Science and Sparks Hall and resurfacing Stewart Stadium’s parking lot, razing Woods Hall, and pressure washing and painting New Fine Arts. Another effort involves reviewing housing facilities and future development. Old Richmond will not be used in the fall, Jackson said, adding a recommendation may go to the Board of Regents to raze the building.
One ongoing issue involves securing funding from the state for major structural upgrades, such as the electrical grid. When asked if a $16 million electrical grid project will be a request item in the next budget session (next year), Jackson said Murray State, with peer institutions, is putting together a package of deferred maintenance needs and will be making a combined ask to the legislature. The electrical grid project will be the “top project” in ‘the ask’ from Murray State.
In last year’s forum, then-president Bob Davies repeated the word “privatized” to describe the changing landscape of higher education and the challenges ahead for public universities in Kentucky.
On this topic, Jackson said the university will be looking at public-private partnerships in the months ahead with regard to housing. “This is a public university and we have a public responsibility in our region. So taking things that are outside of our teaching and learning component and entering into some kind of public/private partnership - I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think that is an opportunity in that particular case.” he said.
Jackson said his theme in this year’s budget and tuition forum is “enhancing and growing” the university in academics and structure. “This university is almost one hundred years old,” Jackson said. “It has served this region well for nearly one hundred years and we’re going to be here one hundred years from now. And we need to continue looking at and offering those high-quality academic programs at a very good value and making sure access and affordability is always at the top of the list.”