Campus Update, April 22, 2016

This week, Delta State hosted the monthly meeting of the IHL Board, along with my fellow university presidents.  It was a very productive meeting that gave us the opportunity to showcase Delta State.  I extend my sincerest thanks to those who organized and supported all of the great events, and special thanks to everyone on campus for helping to roll out the green carpet for our guests—from event set-ups and landscaping to hosting and transporting visiting dignitaries.

Ironically, some very disappointing news was announced by state government officials during the same time that these meetings were taking place on campus.

It saddens me to inform you that Delta State has been hit with more budget cuts from the state.  These cuts come on top of the mid-year reduction we received just three months ago.  Our sister institutions around the state are sharing this pain as well.

Included in the cuts for Delta State are: (1) an $88,000 cut, effective immediately, and (2) a $725,000 reduction in the fiscal year 2017 budget that becomes effective July 1.  Both of these cuts are due to the state experiencing a significant reduction in revenue.  These newest cuts follow the $434,000 budget reduction Delta State received from the State in January, which also was imposed because of a shortfall in state revenue.  All eight state universities, and most state agencies, are experiencing similar cuts.

For Delta State, the combined cuts result in a decrease of more than $1.3 million for this coming year’s budget.  These are permanent cuts, and they strip badly-needed dollars from our already austere annual budget of $46 million.  These huge hits to our budget directly affect our ability to manage this campus sufficiently, and they undermine our budget planning.

Happily, there are a few bright spots and good news items coming out of the legislative session that just mercifully ended, and I am very grateful for this funding. Delta State will be provided $434,000 for facility repair projects on campus, and supplemental funding has been continued for DMI, Aviation, E-Learning, and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.  Also, Delta State will receive nearly $8 million in bond funding, which supports major capital improvements on campus, such as building renovations.

Ultimately, we cannot control the revenue shortfall at the state level.  But, we can control key internal operational issues such as prudent budget management practices, operational efficiencies, recruitment and retention efforts, and smart budgeting that supports our priorities.  Administrative and management decisions, as well as changes put in place over the last couple of years, have helped us prepare for this difficult time.  Examples include:  student retention procedures; improved debt collection practices; the new purge procedure for outstanding tuition payments; more aggressive student recruitment; and, tighter management practices across the board.  All of these efforts have helped support our financial bottom line.  And, the budget cuts and program eliminations we instituted last year are now yielding savings that we badly need at this time.  In addition, we will realize savings from reorganizing our Student Health Center operation, which will also result in a higher level of service to our students and the university community.

We have already begun working vigorously to determine the best approach for managing the new budget reductions in a manner that has the least negative impact on our students, academic programs, and general operations.  To the great credit of our university family across campus, we have pulled together over the last two years to stabilize and tighten our budget.   As a result, I am hopeful that we will be able to weather this storm without additional reductions in programs or personnel.

However, plans for a number of initiatives, including another comprehensive round of salary increases across campus, have been gutted as a result of these drastic cuts from the State.  I am disappointed that—just when we were beginning to reach the point of having a stabilized budget, a positive cash position, and optimism for advancement in several areas of campus enterprise—the imposition of these state budget cuts restricts our ability to move forward.  Sadly, the new revenue we are scheduled to realize, due to a modest tuition increase this fall, will now be totally offset – and more – by these untimely cuts.

Nevertheless, we will press on, and we will continue to marshal our resources wisely for Delta State.  This is a time for thoughtful planning, and I want you to know we are on that task.  The combination of our recent visioning process and the wise use of our limited financial resources will help us move forward—despite the budget cuts.  I ask for your understanding and patience as the Cabinet and I address these new challenges.

At a higher level, we will continue our advocacy with state officials in the quest for adequate resources to run this university.  And, we will continue to promote the value of higher education—and especially our unique mission and challenges in serving the Delta.  The IHL Board, our governing entity, is solidly behind us, and they are supportive of what we are doing on this campus and what public higher education means to this state.  The IHL Board, the Commissioner and his staff, and our sister institutions are unified and committed to doing everything possible to communicate to state leaders the compelling case for higher education and the state’s need to invest in this vital enterprise at a significantly higher level.  Clearly, our students, our university, and the future of this state depend on it!

 

Onward and upward!

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