The University of Houston faces a mid-February deadline to submit plans for cutting its budget by $16 million over the next 18 months.
That could mean layoffs as administrators streamline non-academic programs. Degree plans that attract only a few students are under review, as well.
The state’s public universities, along with other state agencies, have been ordered to submit plans to cut 5 percent of state funding for fiscal year 2010 and 2011. The 2010 fiscal year is almost half over.
“This is a bit of a crisis, but we’ve been through it before,” said John Antel, who as provost oversees UH’s academic programs.
Gov. Rick Perry, who requested the proposals in a letter also signed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, hasn’t said whether the cuts will be enforced. But Antel said he expects it to happen as a result of slumping sales tax revenues and other fallout from the struggling economy.
The cuts would be relatively small — about $8 million a year, from the total UH annual operating budget of $996.5 million.
But they come on top of rising enrollment, so universities will have to educate more students with less money.
“It’s going to be a very tight budgetary environment,” said Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes.
Some schools will suffer more than others.
“The UT-Austins and the Texas A&Ms of the world are much less reliant on state funding than UT-Brownsville or A&M International (University) in Laredo,” Paredes said.
UH is somewhere in the middle. Carl Carlucci, executive vice chancellor for administration and finance, said 32 percent of its budget comes from the state.
Students, families and politicians are increasingly unhappy with rising tuition and fees, which are up an average of 63 percent since 2003.
“Our families are starting to hurt,” said Kenneth Fomunung, student government president at UH.
But he realizes that less state money would make tuition increases almost inevitable.
The student group recommended tuition go up 5 percent or less over the next two years.
That’s unlikely, Antel said. The administration probably will ask for a 3.95 percent increase — tacit acknowledgment of a non-binding resolution passed by legislators asking annual tuition increases be capped at 4 percent.
Uniform cuts out
Crucial decisions will be made over the next two weeks.
“One thing that’s become apparent, we can’t uniformly take cuts,” said Mark Clarke, a faculty member in the health and human services department and president of the Faculty Senate. “The consequences of an across-the-board cut would be (to hurt) those programs we’re trying to develop, the student success and the Tier One initiatives.”
People at UH have talked for years about becoming a Tier One university, but the momentum has grown since Renu Khator was hired as chancellor of the UH system and president of its main campus.
Voters last fall approved a plan to give UH and six other so-called emerging research universities additional state money if they reach certain milestones.
Faculty salaries are a big — and unresolved — topic.
About 20 percent of UH faculty received a raise last year, an effort to keep the people most likely to be recruited by competing schools. This year’s budget doesn’t include money earmarked for raises, but Antel said he and Khator don’t want to go another year without a faculty raise.
“She realizes you can’t have a quality world-class faculty that don’t get pay raises for a two-year period,” Clarke said. “Our Tier One aspirations and our academic mission require an intact faculty, a motivated faculty.”