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MU braces for more state cuts

Jan. 10, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University officials said they were surprised to learn about nearly $700,000 in state appropriation cuts for the current fiscal year on Monday, but they already have set in motion action to determine just how they will respond to the newest round of cuts from the state and try to prevent more from taking place during the 2014 West Virginia Legislative Session.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed an executive order Friday instructing state agencies to make a combined $33 million in cuts from their budgets for the current fiscal year. The state's public higher education institutions will carry $3.1 million of the overall reduction.

Public higher education institutions throughout the state already have been operating with a 7.5 percent reduction in state funding approved by the state legislature for the 2014 fiscal year, and the new reductions will have to be absorbed by the institutions by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2014.

Marshall will lose approximately $690,073 in state funding, which is in addition to the $5.11 million the university lost from the reduction at the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year.

Marshall University President Stephen Kopp said he and university officials still were sorting through the information Tuesday, and they plan to meet for a closed budget work group meeting Friday on campus to again determine how the university will make its own cuts to compensate for the decrease.

He said they also anticipate a 3.75 percent cut in state appropriations to go into effect for the 2015 fiscal year, which is a slightly lower cut than anticipated, but Kopp said the focus now is on how to deal with the mid-year cuts and push back against cuts for next year.

"Right now, we are going to manage the immediate cuts," he said. "It's a very difficult situation. It's to the point where there is very little flexibility for adjustments."

Marshall isn't experiencing the cuts alone. Media outlets have reported that West Virginia University will lose about $1.1 million in funding from the executive order, and other public higher education institutions will lose between $46,000 and $177,000.

Marshall faculty are bracing for the cuts as they prepare to resume classes for the spring semester on Monday, Jan. 13.

Finance professor Dallas Brozik said he used the last of his discretionary spending account last semester to purchase reams of paper to be sure he had enough for next semester. He also said repairs to classroom equipment and buildings have been delayed because the funds aren't available to make them.

He said it seemed that legislators were not making investments in the future of higher education in the state.

"If you are worried about the future of West Virginia, that future lies in the colleges and universities and the students that we teach," Brozik said. "If we can't do for our own citizens, the parents that have been taxed for years and the students who already have a vested interested in the state, then we're not making good on investments for West Virginia's future."

Kopp said the cuts evolve into an issue of affordable access to public education for students, saying one issue of public higher education is to preserve affordable access to schools.

After last year's budget cuts, Marshall raised tuition between $140 and $318 per semester, depending on students' residential statuses, which garnered about $1.95 million for the school.

Kopp said affordable access to college is contingent on state funding, and the continued cuts in state funding is pushing Marshall and other universities throughout the nation more toward a privatized approach of funding and operation.

"We are pushing more and more the financial cost and responsibility to students and families with these cuts, and the implications are quite real for students and their families who have to make decisions about how to manage it," Kopp said. "What we are looking at is how will we continue to provide services on a financial model that is less and less dependent on state funding and more dependent on private funding and literally make that transition into privatization."

He said privatization would mean that the school would adopt practices that relied more on private endowments and scholarships, and it would change the way the university works in conjunction with the state in regard to things like research projects and hosting state-sponsored events on campus.

However, Kopp said he and other university officials aren't ready to completely draw a line in the sand yet, saying he was eager to work with legislators from Cabell and Wayne counties in the House and Senate.

"I don't think anyone is looking into a crystal ball and saying this is exactly how the world will look 10 years from now," Kopp said. "My approach always has been to offer constructive suggestions and solutions rather than complain. I've never found that complaining has led to anything useful."

Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.

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