IMG squeeze alters college

Joe Carlson

Red and blue numbers scribbled across University College Dean Hal Miller’s dry-erase board told part of the story. In total, the college’s budget partially sketched on the college dean’s board left a projected $2.6 million hole.
Declining enrollment, inter-college competition and a new University budgeting process created the gap. The college is leaner than it was a year ago, but that won’t save it from further belt-tightening next year — including the possibility of laying off up to 20 people.
But Miller is hopeful. Not only is the college going to bounce back from the budget crisis, he said, it will be a better organization after it does.
“We’re not out of the game here,” Miller said.
However, the college has had to rethink its strategy after the Board of Regents passed a policy last July called Incentives for Managed Growth.
The policy changed the way tuition money is distributed at the University. Before, the money students paid to take classes went into a kitty that central administration divvied out. Today, colleges collect every penny of the tuition money for classes taken by their students.
It was intended to encourage colleges to try new programs by directly rewarding successful new ventures in the form of increased tuition revenue. Although a new concept to the University, the policy has been tried — with some success — at other universities.
“It’s not exactly radical,” said University President Mark Yudof, “that a college that generates some tuition should keep a portion of it.”
Nevertheless, the policy made waves across the board. Rather than something that affects people with speed and impact, the policy is intended to have subtle effects over a long period of time.
Administrators said it’s too early to tell if the policy is creating enough incentives to promote its overall goal of managed growth. Since its passage, though, the policy has had a host of smaller impacts, both positive and negative.
On the plus side, the policy forced each college to take a good, hard look at spending priorities, Miller said.
He said despite the headaches IMG caused in his college, the budgeting constraints helped to refresh University College’s mission. The college has begun to focus more on specialized areas such as certificates, or shorter terms of focused study.
“We’re going to be much more demand-driven rather than product-driven,” Miler said.
The policy also helped create more raw data on which to base those decisions. This information includes enrollment and course cost figures.
Critics of the policy said it could foster an atmosphere of competition between colleges, forcing administrators to see students as revenue sources rather than hungry minds. Some feared the policy could edge out important programs that shouldn’t be subjected to the same financial pressures as professional schools.
Yudof said he understands the concerns.
“I don’t expect a great philosophy department to bring in its own tuition as a business school would,” Yudof said.
Administrators said they’ve worked on countermeasures to negate the unintended side effects.
Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost, said central administrators will continue to hand out funds to essential programs caught in the funding crunch, such as the humanities. One such method is a $2.4 million “Robin Hood” fund, a term coined by Yudof.
University College will receive about $7 million in state money to cover costs next year, Miller said.
Other administrators said faculty are making far too big an issue of the policy. Yudof pointed out that because tuition is such a small percentage of the University’s total budget, IMG affected the distribution of about $1 in every $7. The outreach college is one area that felt hard-and-fast effects.
University College is one of the main outreach arms of the University. Serving nontraditional students, it helps students who are returning to higher education, not seeking a degree or taking an occasional night class.
In the past the college’s administrators hired instructors from other colleges and from outside the University to teach night classes. Miller said the College of Liberal Arts had no incentive to offer night classes because the vast majority of its students attended day school.
But now, the regent’s incentives policy gave CLA a reason to offer the courses itself — tuition money — and thus has resulted in the creation of a new administrative term, “inloading.”
Inloading is when colleges take back courses that were formerly offered by other colleges. “They’re taking back some of those courses,” Bruininks said.
For example, CLA has begun to offer Spanish courses at night; these classes were formerly taught by University College.
Bruininks said inloading to the detriment of the outreach college has been in the works for a while. It was just a matter of time until colleges had an incentive.
“These shifts have been going on for a number for years,” Bruininks said.
All of this is old news to Miller, though, who said he has been preparing for the policy’s effects for about a year. For example, he said, the college has purposely not filled positions after people have left so that he won’t have to turn around and let them go again.
University College has also begun to focus on certificate programs in which students take a short, focused group of classes to earn a certificate in a specific field, such as accounting.
In all, Miller said IMG does not mean the end of the outreach college. In fact, it actually played a role in it’s revitalization.
“It prompted us to face the future and make changes we might not have made without it,” he said.