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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

State Budget Cuts Take Toll on Higher Education
DelTech rescinds request for funds in light of deficit

February 6, 2009

By JENNIFER PRICE
The News Journal

Citing the state's massive budget deficit, Delaware Technical & Community College President Orlando George said Thursday he would rescind his request for more state funds.

"Clearly, given the circumstances we find ourselves in during this economy, it would be inappropriate for me to go down that path," George told the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.

In November, George had requested an additional $2.7 million in operating costs to fund financial aid, increased staff positions and the Associate in Arts program administered with the University of Delaware. Revenue projections have fallen significantly since then, bringing the state's projected budget deficit for fiscal year 2010 to $606 million.

Delaware State University and the University of Delaware, which also went before the budget-writing committee Thursday, renewed their requests for more money.

The fiscal 2010 budget proposed by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner before her term ended called for a 3 percent cut to higher education. Minner also recommended that incoming Gov. Jack Markell's administration close the deficit by trimming another $36.4 million from higher education.

For Delaware Tech, that would mean a $10 million cut to its operating budget.

"We've never seen anything of this magnitude. I'm not sure everyone fully gets how severe this cut is," George said. "I just ask that we work together, and we'll help find the solution. If cutting is part of what has to be done, then we'll do it."

Students will be impacted: George predicted 144 fewer course selections would be offered.

Delaware Tech's enrollment is at a record 15,228 this year. That includes the addition of 988 students who received state-funded Student Excellence Equals Degree scholarships that pay the full cost of their degrees. Overall enrollment is expected to hit 22,000 by 2020.

Delaware State University leaders on Thursday urged legislators to support their students by requesting an additional $2 million for academic scholarships that they said will help the school match the financial aid incentives provided by the SEED program.

DSU is cut off from SEED because it doesn't have a two-year program. UD students can participate through the Associate in Arts program, attending class at Delaware Tech for two years before transferring to UD's Newark campus in their junior year.

Acting President Claibourne Smith said SEED has affected DSU's enrollment, which is at 3,534 this year, down from 3,756 in the fall of 2007.

"It's critically important that we come to you and ask for some kind of relief for this unintended consequence because it's devastating to this university, and it will continue to be devastating until we remedy it," Smith said.

In addition to scholarships, DSU requested $750,000 to start a master's in public health program, $546,700 to pay for a portion of staffing and utilities costs at the new wellness center and about $2.1 million in funds that would be used to provide matches for research grants obtained by the faculty.

That the Legislature will grant many requests in this economic climate is unlikely. For the state to achieve the $36.4 million higher education cut, DSU will have to cut $5.7 million.

"Our people are still scratching their heads on how we will be able to continue to deliver the services to our young people," Smith said. "There's no easy answers here, and I wish there was."

UD requested an additional $4.4 million for new programs and to enhance or maintain existing initiatives, including $600,000 for the newly created Delaware Energy Institute and $200,000 for the recently launched Office of Economic Innovation and Partnership.

President Patrick Harker said UD leaders understand the financial constraints the state faces.

"We are taking strategic steps now to limit our expenditures, including senior administration salaries, vacant positions and discretionary spending," he said.

Harker announced last week that he will take a 10 percent cut in his 2009 salary. The salaries of Provost Dan Rich and Executive Vice President Scott Douglass also will be reduced by 5 percent this year.

With the state's $606 million deficit, UD faces a $20.1 million cut to its operating budget.

Harker said Thursday that it is premature in the budget-making process to discuss specific cuts but he can offer assurances that UD's academics will be protected.