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MU faces further budget cuts

Marshall
Aug. 27, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

HUNTINGTON -- If state funding for higher education continues to shrink in West Virginia, Marshall University may need to borrow from financial strategies used by private colleges and universities, President Stephen Kopp said Tuesday.

That assessment came as Marshall administrators and the university's Board of Governors discussed how they will need to brace for another possible round of state budget cuts. This year's state funding for higher education was cut 7.5 percent, and a similar reduction may occur again for the next budget year.

If that trend continues year after year, Kopp said it might be best to operate Marshall as if it was a private institution.

He said it's conceivable that the amount of state support could dwindle from about 23 percent now to 10 percent by 2024.

"I was told by state officials they don't see how to keep the budget flat," Kopp said. "In 10 years, it's realistic we'll look at far, far less funding."

Earlier this month, state agencies were directed to prepare two budgets for the next fiscal year: one based on this year's allocation and another reflecting another 7.5 percent cut.

West Virginia Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said in a letter to agencies that revenue projections indicate a significant funding gap for the coming year due to Medicaid costs, a slowdown in the coal industry, declining revenues from gambling and the national economy.

There are exempted agencies, but public higher education is not one of them.

"We do have challenges ahead of us, with our cutbacks last year and the expected cuts next year," said Dale Lowther, the chairman of the board's Finance, Audit and Facilities Planning Committee. "We will meet these challenges, but it's not going to be easy."

Kopp said Marshall has taken measures to adjust to the new budget climate, including the new partnership with INTO University Partners. The international recruiting firm helped bring about 180 students from 20 countries to campus for the fall semester, although about 60 will arrive in September through early October.

Marshall also earns lease revenue by allowing INTO to operate its academic English programs in the newly renovated East Hall. But Kopp said fundraising and endowments will have to be evaluated to see how those can translate into additional dollars that can help stabilize the budget.

There also was discussion about pushing for a soft-drink tax in the state, something Kopp sought during the 2013 legislative session in hopes of creating a revenue stream for the state's three medical schools. But Kopp said it's best to look at other possibilities because he doesn't think it will gain much traction next year either.

"The state seems unwilling to look at alternative revenue streams," he said, citing a tax on Internet downloads as another area that could be considered a possibility.

"We need to rethink the budget model," Kopp said. "Anticipate and adapt."

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