July 16, 2018 | ° F

State budget cuts down on college funds

For many University students, a higher education in New Jersey may soon require deeper pockets.

Gov. Chris Christie's proposed fiscal year 2011 budget aims to reduce the state's multibillion-dollar deficit by cutting into state funding, which puts $173 million in allocations for higher education on the chopping block.

In a letter to the University community, University President Richard L. McCormick said the University's direct state operating aid during the next academic year would be cut 15.1 percent and would be $46.6 million lower than the University's original appropriation for the current fiscal year.

The final University budget will not be imposed until after the state's budget is reviewed, modified and enacted by the legislature, which must be done by June 30.

When the state's budget is cut, the University looks for other sources of revenue, defers expenditures and cuts its own budget, Vice President for University Budgeting Nancy S. Winterbauer said.

"We will be looking at efficiencies and cutting costs and finding ways to save money," she said. "But we've had cuts that are so significant over the last four years, that it's difficult to find new efficiencies after you've been down this road several times."

Since student education is funded largely in part by student tuition and fees and state appropriations, cuts in state funding mean the University must either cut back services or raise tuition to substitute for lost state dollars, Winterbauer said.

"We are certainly looking at trying to not do double-digit [percent] tuition increases," she said. "I can assure you we're going to do everything to keep the tuition increase as reasonable as possible."

In the 2009 to 2010 academic year, New Jersey already had the second-highest average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities at $11,167, according to a College Board report.

If the cuts were enacted, the University's operating aid would be at its lowest since 1994, McCormick said.

In fiscal year 1994, the University received $254.461 million in state funding, Winterbauer said. The proposed fiscal year 2011 budget includes $262.778 million in aid.

In 1994, the University's budget was $881 million, she said. The current year's budget is $1.9 billion with state aid comprising 24 percent.

The budget has grown because grants and contracts, tuition and fees, student housing and dining have increased, Winterbauer said.

Still, many of these new revenues are not available to substitute for lost state support, she said.

The proposed state budget reduces funding for Tuition Aid Grants and the Educational Opportunity Fund and does not provide funding for incoming freshmen in the NJ STARS scholarship program, McCormick said in the letter.

Federal stimulus money helped soften the blow of a cut of roughly 5 percent to the University's state aid last year, but such funds will not be available this time around, Winterbauer said.

"I don't see a similar white horse over the horizon this year," she said. "New Jersey doesn't have any more stimulus money that it could use to plug the hole in the higher education."

In addition to stimulus dollars, faculty and staff unions' agreements to defer $30 million in contractually obligated salary increases helped alleviate financial troubles, Winterbauer said.

The University should be able to honor its recently negotiated memorandums, Union of Rutgers Administrators-American Federation of Teacher President Lucye Millerand said.

"Rutgers management should not have trouble financing our raises, and quite frankly, they shouldn't have trouble keeping the number of faculty and staff that are needed to run this university," Millerand said. "Executive hiring went on last year to an extent that I think is irresponsible."

University spokesman E.J. Miranda said the president's cabinet and other senior administrators did not receive pay raises this year either.

Together, the two American Federation of Teacher-affiliated locals represent more than 7,500 faculty and staff positions at the University.

Staff contribute to the University's mission by bringing in money for financial aid and making aid accessible, assisting research at the library, keeping campuses clean and performing other jobs that keep the University operating, Millerand said.

"We are not overstaffed in any area," she said. "We're not a drag on the University. We're part of the engine."

Rutgers University Student Assembly representative John Aspray hopes to work with the University to increase transparency.

He said if comprehensive budget information, which explains how different departments are funded and how that money was spent, were readily available, students could contribute more productively to the University's budget process.

"The line coming out of Trenton may be that the University is a huge, bloated bureaucracy that is corrupt, but I don't think that's true," said Aspray, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "I'm sure that people at the University are working very hard with what they have. If you increase transparency, you can dispel a lot of those rumors. If it's true, it'll come out as true."

Greg Flynn

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