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Stephen Kopp: Sensible budget steps will aid MU mission

Apr. 17, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Although our state financially stands as one of the strongest in the nation, West Virginia is facing significant budget revenue shortfalls. It is a situation we have been told to expect, but adjusting to a thinner wallet is not going to be easy. "Business as usual" simply is no longer a reasonable expectation.

Marshall and other West Virginia public colleges and universities are facing a nearly 9 percent state budget cut for next year. And we are told that unless the state's revenue streams dramatically increase in the coming months, we are likely to face additional reductions in the future.

We need to thank our legislators and our governor for their prudent guidance of the state through the depths of the Great Recession and the ongoing economic recovery. I especially wish to commend our local delegation for their outstanding support of Marshall University. As our legislature deliberates the state budget bill this week, I trust they will keep in mind the tremendous impact our university has on the state's financial health, and that for every dollar they invest in Marshall, we return more than $20 to the state's economy.

Marshall is financially strong now and we will stay strong.

It is for this reason that last week we announced a plan to help prepare for these imminent cuts in public funding. We have chosen a strategy to enable us to better evaluate where we can make necessary adjustments while focusing greater attention on mission-critical activities.

First, we are freezing the hiring of non-critical personnel. This does not mean that there will be no hiring, but simply that each request to fill a vacancy will be carefully evaluated case-by-case.

Secondly, we are migrating to a new budgeting process that will provide improved control of cash flow. In the first step, the campus received a jolt last week when we announced that the balances over $5,000 in many special revenue accounts were consolidated into a single holding account from which departments will need to request withdrawals. The purposes for which specific fees were collected will, of course, be preserved and existing commitments will be honored.

Departments may be asked to delay some purchases -- a piece of equipment, for example -- or to find a less expensive option. We are not stopping or suspending travel, equipment purchases or supply orders. We are simply asking ourselves, "Do we really have to make this purchase right now to continue to serve our students?"

No program cuts are imminent and these measures should not affect daily operations. The most important consideration in every spending decision will be the delivery of services to our students.

Faced with a more than $5 million state funding budget hole, I strongly believe these measures are a sensible way to curtail spending. In other states, universities have been forced to lay off faculty and employees. They also have had to enact huge tuition increases, pushing the dream of higher education out of reach for struggling families.

We must maintain tighter control of our finances so we don't find ourselves in such dire predicaments. These new measures will do that. We likely will have to increase tuition if funding cuts remain as projected, but we want to minimize the increase as much as possible for the benefit of our students and their families.

For details, I encourage you to visit our website at www.marshall.edu/budgetplan.

Marshall is one of the nation's best values in higher education. The universal goal of our students, faculty, staff and our elected officials is to remain that way.

Stephen J. Kopp is president of Marshall University.

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