Faced with falling enrollment, the University of Idaho will cut $5 million from its budget effective July 1, the start of the school’s fiscal year.
Provost John Wiencek, speaking Tuesday in a meeting of the UI Faculty Senate, said while “total enrollment” numbers have remained relatively steady over the past few years, the number of “degree-seeking students” has declined by about 17 percent since 2011. The decline means the university has lost out on roughly $15 million in tuition revenue, he said.
The UI’s 2019 fiscal year budget was set at $470 million.
Wiencek said about five years ago, the state Legislature started funding advanced credit opportunities that allow high school students to enroll in courses for both college and high school credit. He said participation of such students, who pay a greatly reduced, nominal fee for dual-credit courses rather than a full tuition, inflated the UI’s total enrollment numbers.
The UI has two major sources of funding, Wiencek explained, appropriations from the state and tuition revenues.
“If the state says, ‘Hey, I’m going to allocate $56 million,’ we get $56 million and we spend every nickel of that,” Wiencek said. “For tuition, we don’t know how much we’re going to get until the year is over and so we’re making our best guess at how much tuition revenue we’ve generated in a year.”
UI President of Finance and Administration Brian Foisy said tuition revenue has fallen short of expectations nine out of the past 10 years, peaking in fiscal year 2017 when projections were nearly $4 million higher than what was collected.
With departments within the university already authorized to spend the estimated amount, Foisy said it became common practice to backfill that shortfall from university reserves. With those reserves now depleted, the university only has one option – cut the budget.
“We’ve continued year after year to pursue a policy of essentially absorbing, with savings accounts, the impact of tuition collection shortfalls,” Foisy said. “There’s no alternative left.”
Wiencek said the $5 million cut is intended to be a one-time budget reduction, and it will be vital that the UI grow its enrollment in order to avoid future cuts.
“For us to start growing enrollment by 3 percent a year and do that year in, year out, we’ll be in great shape in just a matter of two or three years,” Wiencek said. “So my focus is just to make sure we don’t decline, that we go up.”
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