By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Faced with declining enrollment and a resulting $630,000 budget cut, Montana State University-Northern will need help from the Board of Regents and the Legislature, Chancellor Alex Capdeville said.
He told a forum on campus this week that Northern faces a projected drop of 134 full-time students next school year, according to figures presented at a recent Regents meeing. The $630,000 estimate is slightly less than the $700,000 shortfall Northern calculated.
Capdeville said he is hopeful the Regents will change their funding formula take into account that smaller schools do not benefit from economies of scale.
"It's unrealistic for a campus like Northern to take that kind of cut," he said. "That's the good news. They're going to have to tweak the numbers."
The Regents estimated that Northern will lose 108 full-time, or full-time equivalent students in the 2006-07 academic year, which would result in another $513,000 cut. Each university's budget is determined by both the current and projected enrollments.
The numbers are not final. Capdeville said it appears the winter enrollment will hold steady this year, though that may not have a very big impact on the estimates. In addition, Northern will further emphasize recruiting.
This year Northern's total budget for operations is $26.7 million, vice chancellor Chuck Jensen said. The full-time or full-time equivalent student population is 1,306, which includes students in the Great Falls and Lewistown locations.
Capdeville came to the forum with a solution for offsetting the estimated budget cut in the short term, a transfer of about $500,000 from Montana State University-Bozeman. He said he has had discussions with the Bozeman administrators that indicate they would support the transfer.
Rolf Groseth, vice president of inter-campus affairs at MSU-Bozeman, said the Bozeman campus is considering making the transfer to help Northern offset its budget shortfall.
Any proposed transfer would need approval by the Board of Regents, said Pam Joehler, director of budgets and accounting for the Regents.
After his meeting with the Regents' budget committee last week, Capdeville said, he had another reason for cautious optimism.
The committee approved many of Northern's additional funding requests for new equipment, technology and professional development, totaling $400,000 in the first year and $225,000 in the second. The committee in January will review an additional request of $150,000 in the first year and $225,000 in the second, Joehler said.
If approved by the Legislature, those funds would not compensate for a general budget cut, but could improve recruitment possibilities and help fight a declining enrollment, Capdeville said.
He would also like to see the university try for $1 million in equipment funds, $500,000 of which would come from the state, with the other half coming from a match from the MSU-Northern Foundation.
"If anyone gets any money, we'll do as well as any of them," he said.
But the chancellor said a tuition hike could not be avoided.
"There's going to be some increase in tuition, there's no doubt about that," he said.
Last year Northern's tuition increased by 11 percent.
Northern will also encourage early retirement by offering three years of health insurance to faculty members who decide to retire by June, he said.
Capdeville said he'd like to emphasize recruitment to combat a declining enrollment, which he said is the result of being in a geographic area with declining population.
"There's some rightsizing that needs to take place, rather than cuts," he said. Capdeville added that he'd like to concentrate on programs that can draw students. Northern is considering adding an electrician program similar to the new plumbing program.
Capdeville also suggested lengthening class periods from 50 to 60 minutes so the university can add a fall break to its schedule, a feature he said would appeal to students.
The chancellor said Northern could also improve recruiting among Native Americans and Canadians as well as draw football players from states where teams are more competitive and relatively good players don't get playing time.
He plans to hold open forums every week to discuss the univeristy's plans to respond to budget and recruiting problems. In past months, a subcommittee of the MSU-Northern Advisory Council has been meeting to discuss the issues.
"There's some concern that we're doing this with this ghost committee," Capdeville said. That subcommittee will probably only meet one more time and then disband, he added.
Though decisions wouldn't necessarily be made by consensus, he said: "Because of some of the issues right now, we have to have as much broad-based discussion on this as we can across the campus. People need input into these processes."
Capdeville got good marks from Roger Stone, president of the faculty union, for his presentation.
"I've been through this a couple two or three times and this is the smoothest I've seen it," Stone said about the administration's response to news of budget cuts. He has been at Northern for 20 years.
"It's a much more institutional process than I've ever seen before," he said. "That's good for the school, good for the community, and good for the students.
"It's a healthy process for Northern," Stone said. "At least we know where we stand."