Duluth makes plans to tackle $4.3M deficit

Part of the proposal includes a set of $1 million allocations from the University system.

by Benjamin Farniok

Facing a $4.3 million deficit, University of Minnesota-Duluth Chancellor Lendley Black released a plan last month that he says will eliminate the school’s budget problems.
The school’s administrators hope that the plan will measure up to scrutiny, and student leaders said they approve of the proposal — albeit with reservations about future cuts to school programs. 
With the help of two $1 million allocations from the University system, the school could ease the current deficit of $4.3 million by fiscal year 2019 under the proposed plan.
UMD officials will present the plan to Twin Cities campus leaders Thursday.
The campus has seen decreasing student enrollment the last several years, partially due to competition with the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, said Regent Richard Beeson. 
Between 2011 and 2014, UMD’s enrollment dropped by about 600 students.
The plan requests the University make the yearly allocations to help with the school’s budget issues, said UMD’s Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations Steve Keto.
Black’s plan proposes merging the school’s five colleges into three and potentially cutting unpopular courses, which the plan says could save the campus $2 million.
“We think this plan will have very little impact on students,” he said.
Keto said the plan will require departments to save money by electing to give up a faculty position permanently or temporarily, or find other ways to save 1 percent of their revenues, which he said is estimated to save about another $1 million.
Other cuts and efforts to bring in more money are expected to provide the remaining $300,000.
Budget cuts and restructuring colleges could increase administrators’ workload, said Mike Purtell, director of external affairs for the UMD Student Association, adding that despite challenges, the association has a positive view of their efforts.
“They are cutting something, which isn’t ideal. But we view that the administration has the students’ best interest at hand,” he said.
UMD has given the student association more freedom to engage students in campus initiatives to increase retention, Purtell said.
The proposal also mentions plans to increase enrollment growth through more marketing and improvements to campus, such as the recently renovated student center. 
Black’s plan would also channel money toward expansion of distance learning and technology-aided programs.
Beeson said it takes a combination of branding and recruiting make a school competitive.
Keto said the plan would help the school find funding from consistent sources, rather than from “here and there.”
Before the school is able to balance its budget, it expects to continue accumulating a deficit of $10 million to $12 million, according to details in the plan.
It will take about five years to pay off the deficit after the budget is projected to be balanced in 2019, Keto said.