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11/06/2008

Winthrop Details Plan for Dealing with Appropriation Reductions

Quick Facts

 The October state appropriation reduction will cost Winthrop $3.4 million.
 Winthrop will absorb $3.2 million internally.
 Pending trustees’ approval on Friday, students will be asked to pay a $50 “state appropriation reduction adjustment” to make up the rest.

ROCK HILL, S.C. - In less than a week since the S.C. General Assembly and Governor Mark Sanford finalized a set of state appropriation cuts that will cost Winthrop University $3.4 million, administrators today rolled out the plan for coping with the crisis.

With students worried about the possibility of a major mid-year tuition increase and personnel wondering if furloughs were imminent, President Anthony DiGiorgio told the campus in a Thursday afternoon e-mail that neither is a part of the plan.

“These are unprecedented times, but not unmanageable times,” DiGiorgio said. “Winthrop is about preparing our students to live in an era of fast-moving global changes. This is an opportunity for our campus to teach by example – by working together, sharing sacrifices when we must and remaining focused on our mission.”

DiGiorgio said that Winthrop will absorb $3.2 million – 94 percent of the overall cut – internally. Pending trustees’ approval on Friday, students will be asked to pay a modest $50 “state appropriation reduction adjustment” – which equals less than 48 cents a day for spring semester.

“It’s less than the price of a soda a day,” DiGiorgio said, adding that to absorb any more of the cut internally would “get to bone.” On the other hand, he credited university staff who worked on the reduction plan with being “very, very sensitive to the pressure that students and families are under now, too.”

The $50 charge, DiGiorgio said, will generate the $215,000, the final 6 percent needed to make up the total amount the General Assembly cut after a global economic downturn arrived on top of state-adopted tax cuts that reduced state revenues.

By comparison, it would have cost $791 per student to generate the entire $3.4 million only through tuition, DiGiorgio said, but such a steep increase “was simply not an option for us, for our trustees or for families,” so it was never considered. Instead, DiGiorgio challenged his administrative team to find ways to cut that would protect the quality of students’ academic experiences, continue to emphasize safety and security and continue recruitment of the kind of student body for which Winthrop is known.

Student recruitment is increasingly the key to fiscal stability, DiGiorgio said, because state funding is proving to be so undependable for public universities. This year, Winthrop began a visual “branding” initiative that is part of that recruitment effort, and it will continue at a modest level, he said.

Meanwhile, the cut plan will involve cancelling or deferring some external events, as well as finding ways to trim other non-classroom expenditures. Examples include:

  • Cancelling, combining or using Web-based replacement publications to trim costs;
  • Managing travel, with trips involving students making presentations to professional conferences given first priority;
  • Deferring this spring’s “Create Carolina” arts festival, which likely will become an alternate-year event;
  • Cancelling Winthrop co-sponsorship and other costs related to the annual “Shrinkdown” regional wellness event;
  • Holding a number of staff and faculty vacancies open for now, and redistributing the work from those positions among other employees;
  • Increasing some class sizes, typically by 2-5 students, to decrease the number of sections offered, which is turn reduces the number of part-time instructors to be hired;
  • Directing part of the funds received from the S.C. lottery for technology uses to other purposes, since Winthrop already is on target for technology acquisitions for the year;
  • Delaying rotation of computers for faculty and staff to four years from three years;
  • Delaying acquisition of the next phase of replacement vehicles for the university maintenance fleet;
  • Limiting hours of operation for some university facilities, as well as expanding energy management techniques;
  • Offering some elective and upper-level courses less frequently.
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 tradeoff for faculty and staff is that the plan includes no furloughs or reduction in force to meet the $3.4 million reduction.

The president also emphasized that the campus community should understand that construction funds are dedicated one-time fees and are not transferable to meet operating expenses that recur annually.

“Some folks off-campus will see building continuing and wonder about why that is happening while cuts are occurring, so please help explain that to them,” he said in his e-mail.

DiGiorgio said he has been through four cycles of budget reductions over his two decades as Winthrop president. If he has a concern about the overall situation going forward, he said “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.”

View an itemized list of Winthrop's 2008-2009 Appropriation Reduction Plan

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