ROCK HILL, S.C. - Winthrop University trustees today gave campus administrators a grade of 94 – “a solid A” - on their plan to absorb an unprecedented $3.4 million mid-year state budget reduction without major impact on student tuition.
Winthrop students, who are now registering for spring classes, will face a modest $50 fee – dubbed a “Partial State Appropriation Reduction Adjustment” - that will be used to help fill the last part of the sudden big gap in state funding ordered by the General Assembly last month. Had Winthrop replaced the whole state-ordered appropriation reduction with a tuition increase, administrators said, students and families would have been hit with a $791 supplemental charge.
“That was clearly not an option for us, for them, or for you,” President Anthony DiGiorgio told trustees when presenting the plan.
“We know students and family budgets are feeling the current economic situation deeply, so our goal for this process was to impact tuition to the smallest extent possible,” he said, “while staying with our top-three spending priorities in the near- and long-term. With our entire budgeting team working toward that goal, we have put together a plan that means Winthrop will absorb about 94 percent of the cut internally, while passing on the remainder of the cut – a total of about $215,000 out of the $3.4 million – to students through the $50 mid-year charge. This will involve some unprecedented actions on our part, but it is an example of the Winthrop campus community sharing the pain to protect students, just like their families do.”
DiGiorgio emphasized that Winthrop personnel would be sharing the sacrifice in multiple ways: funds for a mid-year salary increase are being redirected to continuing the salary increase mandated by the state last July, but now not state-funded. Some faculty will be giving up classroom release time for taking on additional duties, while others will be teaching additional or slightly larger classes as several current vacancies go unfilled. Those changes will save over a million dollars – the largest segment of the budget cut response plan. The trade-off for faculty and staff is that the plan includes no furloughs or reduction in force to meet the $3.4 million reduction.
Board chair Kathy Bigham of Rock Hill said the plan was deserving of “a solid A,” both in terms of management creativity and sensitivity to parents’ and students’ perspectives.
After being briefed on the plan, State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, told Winthrop officials that “I appreciate Winthrop's willingness to absorb most of the cuts.”
The top three Winthrop spending priorities DiGiorgio has emphasized since the General Assembly targeted higher education to absorb $123 million of $488 million in statewide appropriations cuts are: (1) protecting the overall nationally recognized quality of the experience students have at Winthrop; (2) continuing to invest in a safe and secure campus as needed, and (3) continuing recruitment of the high-achieving and inclusive student body for which Winthrop is known.
Earlier in the semester, when talk of state appropriation reductions first began, DiGiorgio began a centralized review of all vacancies, with only those integral to the fulfillment of the three priorities being approved. Travel management was also tightened, with trips involving students making academic presentations at professional conferences to receive top priority for funding, followed by trips involving presentations of research by tenure-track faculty. Most durable good expenditures were postponed, including 17 new maintenance vehicles and scheduled furniture replacements. (A similar number of new vehicles, postponed after Sept. 11 budget reductions, could not be cancelled and are just now arriving on campus.) Other potential cuts were under discussion in early October, based on an expectation that an additional 3 percent across-the-board cut would be ordered before the end of the year.
Legislators decided to make targeted cuts instead, however, and in mid-October hit South Carolina’s colleges and universities with a 15-percent cut instead of 3 percent, so that other state agencies could be somewhat spared the impact of an across-the-board cut.
DiGiorgio said it was then that he knew some unprecedented steps would be necessary to cope, and began meeting with various campus groups to let them know the depth of the state cuts that were coming. What emerged from those discussions, he said, is a plan that will involve doing some things differently in the near term, including:
- Reducing early morning and late evening operational hours for the building that campus wellness facilities on certain days;
- Combining and/or cancelling some publications and moving others to on-line distribution to save printing costs;
- Postponing some initiatives requiring outside training, consultants or speakers;
- Extending the timeframe for computer rotation in non-student areas from three years to four-years;
- Redirecting Winthrop-generated mid-year salary increase funds to continue paying a state-mandated one-percent pay increase that began in July, since state funding that helped support that has been reduced;
- Moving the annual Create Carolina Arts Festival to alternating years; and
Cancelling Winthrop sponsorship and staff support for some external activities, including the region’s annual “Shrinkdown” wellness initiative.
Because Winthrop had kept its own non-state revenue projections modest when establishing its budget over the summer, it will also be able to direct what it actually has received this fall toward the budget gap, officials said, adding that lawmakers will allow them to also direct a portion of lottery proceeds normally required to be spent on technology to go toward filling the operating gap.
The most challenging part of the changes ahead, the president said, involves making some temporary academic shifts that are being approached in a way that ensures national program accrediting bodies that “Winthrop quality will remain Winthrop quality.” Those include:
- Combining some sections of courses for the near term, which will create slightly larger class sizes while reducing the number of adjunct faculty needed;
- Offering some specialized upper-level courses less frequently;
- Offering some general elective courses less frequently;
- Working with faculty to adjust release time for special initiatives and sabbatical plans to the new fiscal circumstances
DiGiorgio said Winthrop’s strong record of commitment to national accreditation and the solid reviews it always receives during accreditation visits for various programs means accrediting bodies are willing to trust the institution to protect program quality while making such adjustments in light of the sudden state cuts in a national economic downturn.
He cited the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education as a case in point, indicating that it already has agreed to allow Winthrop and other institutions in good standing to postpone accreditation visits for a year. He expects other accrediting bodies to follow suit.
If he has a concern about the overall situation, DiGiorgio told trustees, “it is signals we are now getting that additional cuts could be ahead after the first of the year. Higher education can not continue to be the sacrificial part of the state budget. States that are successful in growing their per capita income invest more, not less, in helping citizens earn four-year degrees. This state’s challenge is to bring its revenue generation back in line with that goal, which is really the way to rebuild the economy long-term.”