Gov. Greitens withholds $146.4 million in state funding

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ILLUSTRATION BY EJ HENDERSON / AST. DESIGN EDITOR

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By STEVEN SPEARS
Managing Editor
(WARRENSBURG Mo., digitalBURG) — There’s a hiring freeze at the University of Central Missouri along with a temporary halt on new capital projects in response to the recent cuts in state funding.
Newly elected Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced Jan. 16, $146.4 million in state funding will be withheld this fiscal year. This includes $55 million in core funding from public, four-year institutions as well as $12 million from two-year colleges in the state. UCM President Chuck Ambrose said the university will receive $4.1 million less in state funding, an 8 percent reduction. Greitens cited reduced revenue due to poor economic growth as the cause for the cuts.
“This withhold that we received last week… there’s pretty strong anticipation that’s not coming back in the (fiscal year) 18 budget,” Ambrose said Friday, Jan. 27, in a meeting with the media. “Will it up our resolve? Absolutely. Will it make us sharpen our edge? Probably.”
In response to the loss of core funding, Ambrose announced immediate budget changes.
“It is very clear that our internal budget processes and overall fiscal management behavior will be challenged in the coming months and beyond,” Ambrose wrote in a campuswide memorandum.
The university has instituted a hiring freeze and a facility project freeze effective immediately. University officials could not quantify how many positions are affected. The budget cuts also mean delayed awards for strategic funding initiatives and looking at operating reallocations, carry forward contributions, and salary savings from lapsed faculty and staff positions to address the withhold.
Ambrose said the university has spent around $250 million on improvements in recent years, making the facility project freeze less of a hindrance.
However, current facilities projects will be completed and any required repairs will be addressed. Renovations and other nonessential facilities projects will not be started, according to university documents.
Jeff Murphy, assistant director of university relations, said no definite decisions have been made about putting current facilities projects on hold. He said there will be a lot of discussion and prioritizing about what facility projects need to move forward until a decision has been made.
The hiring freeze applies to all full- and part-time new positions, vacant positions, positions that become vacant while the freeze is in effect, reclassifications, market adjustments and one-time payments.
The freeze will not impact current faculty promotion, tenure and salary enhancements during fiscal year 2017, according to a clarification sent out by Provost and Chief Learning Officer Deborah Curtis. Exceptions to the hiring freeze may be approved for positions related to campus health and safety, or essential university services critical to the advancement of the academic mission, research or fundraising.

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Stephen Price, vice president of faculty senate, said the senate does not have an official opinion on the hiring freeze yet.
Price said he doesn’t think the cuts to state funding were a surprise, but implementing them in the current fiscal year makes them increasingly more difficult. He said he thinks the university administration is handling the withholds as best it can but the hiring freeze will certainly impact faculty morale.
“It’s unrealistic to think this won’t hurt faculty morale. It’s unrealistic to think that,” Price said. “As a faculty member, I’m sitting in my office and thinking about this in the back of my head. I could be doing more productive things. It’s not like I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job but, still, it’s kind of a bummer.
“We’re experiencing cuts for (the digital media production) program that probably means we may not get some money for equipment that we hope we get. And we need to replace outdated and broken (equipment)… Which makes my job tougher. And sure, I’m going to think about that instead of some of the other stuff I could be doing.”
Ambrose said the university has no intention of firing current employees to make up for the reduced funding.
“As of this point, on this day. But then, if they go deeper…”
Over the next 18 months, more than $700 million in budget cuts statewide will need to be made in order to balance the budget and retain Missouri’s AAA credit rating, according to a news release sent out by Greitens’ office.
Ambrose said UCM leaders should have a clearer idea of the fiscal challenges and policy priorities of the university in the coming weeks. He said the withholds take the university back before 2010 in terms of appropriations.
“We’ve given up every gain since I’ve been here,” he said.
UCM Foundation doubles down
Ambrose said the withholds instituted by Greitens could mean an increase in tuition and mandatory student fees.
Ambrose said UCM has had three years without a tuition increase over the last six years. He said none of the increases were more than 2 percent.
“It’s literally the lowest in the country,” he said.
Ambrose said about 65 percent of university funds come from tuition and 35 percent from state and private sources as well as charitable gifts, contracts and sponsorships.
“If in fact you’re going to have significant divestment from the state and funding on appropriations, the first place – and probably the only place – that institutions can go on the revenue side to make it up is tuition,” he said. “We’re going to attempt not to do that at a level that will disrupt our student’s ability to afford UCM and pay for UCM as absolutely best we can.”
Ambrose said if his administration tried to make up the budget deficit by solely relying on tuition, the university’s ability to drive net tuition and fees will diminish rather quickly.
“So the economics of that are not simply relying on tuition to make up the difference when the 20-year trend is the cost of higher education has outpaced the families’ ability to afford it,” Ambrose said. “We’re coming closer to that tipping point in higher education where cost and price and value kind of collide.”
As of last month, Ambrose said the UCM Foundation board committed their energy to primarily driving fundraising efforts toward students – particularly students with need.
Jason Drummond, executive director of the UCM Foundation, said this isn’t a switch in focus for the foundation, but an intensification of current fundraising efforts.
“The foundation is going to really commit our full intent and efforts toward making students’ success our primary objective,” Drummond said. “We have spent the last five years really focused on creating an academic and learning environment to broaden students’ horizons and the foundation board is more intent, now than ever, to continue to provide those opportunities to our students.”
Drummond said the foundation will try to broaden its donor base and create access grants for students to mitigate any tuition increases that might happen.
“Over the last several years the state has slowly divested in higher education,” Drummond said. “We know that that trend is going to continue. We don’t know how fast that trend is going to accelerate. The gap between what the students can afford to pay and what the state is investing continues to widen.”
Video contribution by Lauren Koske and Kaitlin Brothers.