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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

State Cuts to Kansas Universities' Funds Total $63 Million

BY ROY WENZL
The Wichita Eagle

April 07, 2009

Wichita State University will reduce its budget at least $5.4 million for the coming school year due to state budget cuts, its president said.

State universities, in the budget the Legislature sent to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and in previous cuts to the current budget, lost about $63 million in state support, a cut they all consider a heavy blow.

Outgoing Kansas State University president Jon Wefald suggested at least a 4 percent tuition hike to offset some of the cuts, which he said are the heaviest he's seen in 23 years.

He also said the cuts, reported by the state as 7 percent (combined, from the last two years), are much deeper than that because the cost of doing business has increased in the last year, and because of unfunded mandates by the Legislature.

Any tuition hike must be approved by the Board of Regents.

Jill Docking, a Wichitan and member of the Board of Regents, said she didn't think the board would approve a tuition hike, and that she didn't think Wefald's comments were helpful.

"The issues Jon has outlined are quite true," she said. "But everybody in the state is having to make cuts, in business and in their personal lives. He says it's the biggest cut he's seen at K-State, but it's also the biggest crisis the state has faced in 40 years."

University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway did not release specifics on what KU might cut to stay in line with the state budget, nor did he comment on Wefald's proposal. Hemenway said in a statement that the university already has frozen or eliminated some positions and identified "new efficiencies and other belt-tightening moves."

Beggs declined to advocate for a tuition hike.

WSU's total budget will shrink by $5 million to $6 million for the academic year beginning in the fall. The budget this year totaled about $218 million, of which $74 million was state tax dollars; the state share in the coming year will shrink to about $68.9 million, Beggs said.

About 50 vacant positions at the university will not be filled, everything from custodial to faculty, Beggs said. Research, and classes necessary for graduation, will not be cut, "though some of the classes might be taught by different people," Beggs said.

Many other costs will be deferred, consolidated or cut. Teachers will be doing more teaching and less community service, he said. Community use of WSU facilities that has been free might now carry a fee. Administrative jobs will be merged. WSU's marketing campaign will be reduced. Some courses will be consolidated.

"Instruction will be the last thing affected, though," Beggs said. "We're telling people that we have to reduce, reshape and then rebuild."

State universities will probably have to cut more than the 7 percent the state has said will be cut, Beggs and Wefald said, because of cost increases.

Wefald, in a statement he released last week, said the 7 percent cut of about $13.5 million at K-State is actually much larger because of increased costs of about $9 million.

At WSU, increased costs will add $1.5 million to what will have to be cut from the university budget, in addition to the $5.4 million required by the state's 7 percent cut.

And those state cuts could soon go deeper, Beggs said. He pointed out that the state revenue department's preliminary projections, released last week, show general tax collections for March were $57 million less than expected. That's a substantial number, Beggs said, and could prompt discussions of cuts beyond those already mandated.

Docking said that the Legislature had no choice.

"There's no way that cutting $63 million doesn't hurt, I don't care how brave we all are," she said.

"Everybody knows higher education is critical to the work force. But the Legislature knows that, too, and they tried, as did the governor, to do as good a job as they could."

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.