WKU faces growing budget deficit

What makes up the budget deficit?

Emily DeLetter

President Timothy Caboni estimated that WKU could have a budget deficit of almost $40 million, if statewide budget cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin go into effect.

WKU would lose $4.6 million a year from state funding, which would go on top of the more than $15 million deficit the university has already acquired, according to a statement from the university. In a meeting with College Heights Herald editors, Caboni said there will be difficult decisions that have to be made, including looking at a “reduction of staff.”

“I want to be clear, these are going to be incredibly difficult conversations during the next several months,” Caboni said. “They have significant implications for programs, some programs, but more importantly, will affect individuals and their families.”

An increase in the statewide pension obligation for WKU would also add $9 million to the budget deficit. Bevin has previously stated that pensions will be fully funded, with an addition of $1.1 billion going into the pension system.

“A $40 million lift for an institution of this size is five times the magnitude of any reduction we’ve experienced,” Caboni said. “Eight million dollars is the largest cut the institution has negotiated through.”

WKU has previously used one-time dollars to temporarily cover the shortfall, but Caboni said this method was “not sustainable or a recipe for long-term success.” Last semester, carry-forward funds were used to attempt to cover the budget deficit.

Administrators said they must deal with a decrease in international enrollment, furthering the budget deficit and shift their focus to other types of student enrollment.

Ann Mead, senior vice president for finance and administration, said the current deficit is due to enrollment issues. The WKU Office of Institutional Research reported that 17,215 students were enrolled during the fall 2017 semester, which was a three percent drop from the fall 2016 semester.

In an email, Mead said an additional $10 million is being counted toward the deficit to account for “proposed fixed costs and enrollment changes.”

Mead also said that more will be known “by April as to the actual fiscal challenge.”

To help increase enrollment, WKU has made several efforts toward recruitment, including the Tuition Incentive Program for undergraduate students from specific counties in several states and regional receptions in nearby cities such as Nashville, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri. They are also focusing on enrolling and retaining transfer students from two-year institutions.

Other public universities in Kentucky would face a similar problem should the proposed statewide budget cuts go into effect, according to the Courier-Journal. Morehead University would lose $2.5 million in funding, as well as an additional $200,000 for the Kentucky Folk Art Center. They would also see an increase of $2.7 million for pension obligation. 

The University of Kentucky would face a $16 million cut, with an additional loss of $10 million in state-sponsored programs, including the University Press of Kentucky. They are not a part of the state’s pension system and would see no changes in that area.

Alongside cuts to higher education, there is also a chance that 70 statewide programs could be cut from the budget, according to Gov. Bevin.

Kentucky Mesonet is a statewide automated weather and climate monitoring infrastructure through the Climate Center located at WKU. They are at risk of losing all of their funding that is provided by the Kentucky government, about $750,000 annually.

Mesonet controls 69 automated weather stations in 67 counties across the state that collect detailed weather observations every five minutes. 

Kentucky Mesonet relies on state funding for three-fourths of their expenses. They also receive a small amount of funding from WKU to employ student-workers.

“When we received [state] funding, it was transformational for us,” Director of Kentucky Mesonet Stuart Foster said. “It was the big push we needed and allowed us to unlock the value of the network and further develop services for people in communities all across the commonwealth.”

News reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.