The news that Western Kentucky University plans to hike tuition and cut programs to address a $6 million shortfall in 2016-17 was met Wednesday with relief and frustration.
President Gary Ransdell discussed the reduction Wednesday afternoon during a meeting with media. While the cut hasn't been easy, Ransdell said, there's a need to make sacrifices and move on to more positive developments for WKU.
"Lives are being affected," Ransdell said. "This is difficult, but we will deal with it and we will close the book on it."
Among the budget issues confronting WKU are enrollment revenue decline, cuts in state money and increases in fixed costs, such as a 48 percent employer contribution increase to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System. The result is a budget cut planned for fiscal year 2017 totaling $6,039,200.
Additionally, WKU has also committed to a 3 percent salary increase for all full-time employees. That increase will start phasing in with a 1 percent increase on July 1, continue with another 1 percent on January 1, 2017, and finish on July 1, 2017.
The increase will cost WKU roughly $4 million. The university plans to pay for it with a 4.5 percent tuition hike and equity money, which puts WKU on the same funding level as similar state schools. The tuition increase would amount to $215 per semester if enacted.
Student body president Jay Todd Richey told the Daily News later Wednesday that while no student wants to see tuition go up, they change their minds after hearing the alternatives. Without a tuition increase, the university would be devastated, Richey said.
"There must be shared responsibility in dealing with budget cuts," he said.
However, he's also disappointed that administrators with high salaries aren't helping shoulder that burden by taking a salary reduction.
"That is not standing in solidarity with the rest of the university," Richey said.
WKU plans to use a range of strategies to shore up the cut, such as shifting some items from permanent funding to one-time funding. Ransdell said divisions are allowed to carry unspent money at the end of the fiscal year forward to the next year and spend it once. Typically that money is used for one-time costs, such as equipment.
"In some cases, we're going to carry some programs on nonrecurring funds, even though they may be a recurring expense, in order to salvage them," he said. "At some point in the future we'll try to shift them to a recurring budget line."
The budget cut also includes eliminating vacant faculty positions producing $942,000 in savings.
"There are no filled faculty positions impacted by these actions," Ransdell said. "There are some unfilled faculty lines that will be eliminated."
Following the meeting, Provost David Lee voiced frustrations about less support from the state for higher education.
"Certainly it's frustrating that we see steady reductions in public funding for higher education," he said.
He also spoke about the impact of leaving faculty positions unfilled.
"It hampers our ability to deliver some basic programs," he said. "It hampers are ability in some cases to deliver our Colonnade Program. It puts us in the position of constantly trying to figure out how we can adjust things to make sure our programs get delivered."
The Colonnade Program is a core of general education courses that are part of undergraduate degrees.
WKU plans to cut $745,000 by transfering its building services and grounds employees to its private contract with Sodexo. In a message to faculty and staff, Ransdell said there will be exceptions for employees near retirement eligibility. He said all impacted employees will receive an hourly pay increase, health benefits, vacation and sick leave and none will lose their job from the transition.
Brian Kuster, WKU's vice president for student affairs, saw the positive in that.
"Everyone has a job as opposed to having to let people go if we didn't go this route," he said.
Bryan Russell, WKU's chief facilities officer, said the university has tried to be compassionate, but the change could be "unsettling" for employees.
The university is also reducing money it spends on programs, such as its track and field program. The cut totals $200,000 and spans six programs. They include men's and women's track, outdoor track, men's and women's indoor track and men's and women's cross country.
A $221,700 cut to the Gatton Academy also means about a dozen fewer students will be recruited in fiscal year 2018.
— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @aaron_muddbgdn or visit bgdailynews.com.