WKU facing $1.8 million budget cut


WKU faces a possible $1.8 million budget cut following Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal speech last Tuesday. 

Beshear proposed a 2.5 percent decrease to the operating budgets of Kentucky universities and technical colleges and a 5 percent cut to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

President Gary Ransdell said the proposed cuts were “significantly more than we were expecting.”

“Frankly, up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting to be dealing with cuts at all,” Ransdell said. “But we are dealing with that now and we’ll continue to work through the process and identify some relief for yet another budget cut.”

If the General Assembly passes the proposed budget, WKU students could see a 3-to-4 percent increase in tuition. 

Ann Mead, vice president for Finance and Administration, said WKU would be able to further prepare their budget once the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education sets the standard for tuition increases for public universities. 

“There likely will be a ‘modest’ rate increase,” Mead said, referencing Beshear’s promise to university officials of only a “modest” drop in funds. 

“This was one of the most difficult choices made in this entire budget, because higher education deserves more support, not less,” Beshear said in his address to the Kentucky General Assembly. “But honestly there is simply no way to create enough money to make the needed investments in pre-K through 12th grade, unless higher education is included in the reductions.”

Addressing compensation relief, pension funds, retirement system and mandated cost increases remain major financial obligations for the university budget, Ransdell said. 

The potential budget cut compounds financial concerns from last year’s enrollment drop, which lost the university $1.2 million. The budget gap was made up with one-time funds to the university. 

At last week’s Administrative Council meeting, Provost Gordon Emslie said a growing international student population could also help cushion the blow. 

Emslie and Gordon Baylis, vice president in the Office of Research, said though money was cut at the state level, national funding for collegiate research and grants improved over recent years. 

“Last year and the year before were absolutely brutal in terms of research funding,” Baylis said. “We dug deep, both faculty and students, at working hard to advantage of opportunities once it got better…We got everyone up to speed on how you’re going to apply for the money when the money is there.”

According to the proposed budget, The Carol Martin Gatton Academy would receive $2 million to fund 80 more students, which would lead to an expansion of the current building to accommodate those students. 

Robbin Taylor, vice president for Public Affairs, said the university is keeping an eye on several bills, such as minimum wage and debt cap legislations, to gauge their affect on the state budget and to ultimately state funding to public universities. 

“This is just the first step,” she said during Friday morning’s Board of Regents meeting. “Ultimately, what we’re aiming for is to minimize the reduction.” 

If passed, the cut would mean higher education funding reduced by nearly 17 percent since 2008. 

Prior to the governor’s speech, Ransdell prepared for a 1 percent budget cut, a roughly $800,000 loss to the university. 

Despite the surprise, Ransdell remained hopeful of the General Assembly reconsidering the proposed cut. 

“To use a baseball analogy, it’s a nine-inning game and this is only the first inning,” Ransdell said.