About $13.5 million or $14 million of a targeted $19 million in reductions to the University of Wyoming’s budget has been identified, UW President Laurie Nichols told hundreds of faculty and staff during a town hall meeting Tuesday.
“If I had to call it right now … I think for FY 2017, we are at somewhere in the ballpark of $13.5 (million)-$14 million in reductions to the block grant,” she said. “If we can say we’re at $14 million, and our goal is $19 million, you can see that we still have a gap we need to fill as we move forward.”
So far, holding and eliminating vacant positions has yielded about $5.71 million in savings — more than the original goal of $5.2 million expected by cutting 70 positions.
“We actually, right now, are holding 97 positions vacant from the budget to reach $5.71 million,” she said. “We’re a little bit over the $5.2 (million) goal, but part of the reason we held back more vacant positions is because we haven’t been able to be quite as strong on meeting some of our other targets as we move forward, and we know this is going to be the safety net. If we don’t hit a target in one of the other categories, this is going to have to be the category we go back to to try to realize that savings.”
The retirement and severance incentives available to all university employees, scheduled to end Aug. 5, has already provided significant savings, Nichols said. Currently, $3.64 million in savings is expected for FY 2017, far ahead of the $3 million goal. However, the target for FY 2018 is doubled to $6 million, leaving the retirements and separations off target.
Changes to part-time employee working hours is also yielding monetary savings. Benefits are paid to all employees with more than a 50 percent work load. UW has instead either dropped the work load to below 50 percent or up to full time.
“We’re at at least $1 million, maybe a little bit in excess in $1.1 million,” she said. “Again, this is a moving target, but we’ve saved at least $1 million there and we hope we can get just a little stronger savings.”
Creating a five-course standardized workload of average three-credit classes will also save funding, Nichols said, although it is not quite clear at this time.
“Right now, it is really almost completely unknown,” she said. “It’s not to say we won’t have savings, it’s just that we have not been able to pin down a dollar amount at this point in time. It’s really a moving target. We’re trying to work with the deans to figure out where we are with staffing for fall.”
A final $7 million dictated by the Legislature has already been identified and cleared, Nichols said.
“For the Penny Plan, the $7 million has been realized,” she said.
“That is out of the budget.”
The Financial Crisis Advisory Committee, created after Nichols declared a financial crisis in June, is tasked with building a suggested budget plan for FY 2018.
“Any changes, and they’re still being made, are just trying to get us into this year,” Committee Chairman Steve Bieber said. “Any changes that we recommend won’t be seen until July 1, 2017. Anything we’re doing is still a long time off.
Bieber wanted to emphasize the committee is identifying savings on top of the $19 million being eliminated from FY 2017.
“(FY 2017 eliminations) are a permanent change — I really want to make sure that’s clear,” he said. “That change to the 2017 budget is the beginning place for the 2018 budget. That money is not going to come back. It’s gone. The task before my committee is to find another $15 million in addition to that.”
Current targets show about $9.5 million of the $15 million coming from Academic Affairs, which controls the colleges and departments budget as well as faculty salary. A $1.2 million reduction in the athletics budget is also a target.
“The reductions were all across-the-board for each of the sizes of the budgets, so athletics wasn’t really hit any harder or less than other areas,” he said.
The current targets are subject to change after the final numbers for the 2017 reductions are set, Bieber said.
In addition to eliminations, a subcommittee headed by Rob Godby, professor of economics, is set on identifying new revenue sources. Its first target is program fees.
Compared to 11 other similar institutions, the average program fee structure is 271 percent more than what UW is currently charging students.
“We, for a long time, have benefitted from that state generosity,” Godby said. “But the problem is, we’re in a tough time and we’re going to have to carry a little more of that burden. There’s a little room to do this. We are not going to raise our tuition to the level of these other schools. We are saying there is room to make the changes we need to make to benefit students.”
While more cuts are coming, Bieber said the committee is keeping UW’s core mission at heart.
“This is our institution,” he said.
“For me, what is the greatest harm that could be done to this university is to lose our hearts, to lose that drive, that enthusiasm, that willingness to excel, that pastion for what we do. We, at the University of Wyoming, have an incurable disease, and that is our heart and passion for one another, our community, our students and our state.”
A third-party solution
The idea of third-party services or vendors on campus is another possible cost-saving measure to be looked at in the future. Michael Pishko, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, said it is not uncommon to make use of such services.
“A lot of institutions contract out certain services or functions of a university that aren’t core to the academic mission,” he said. “A university’s core mission is teaching, research and service to the state. It’s not our job to do plumbing. It’s not our job to do landscaping.”
Pishko came to UW from Texas A&M University, where third-party services are regularly used, he said.
“An audit found the university could save $15 million a year by using private contractors for things such as janitorial services, landscaping and lawn service, painting, and basic carpentry, and that’s what they ended up doing.
“It’s not a guaranteed savings,” Pishko continued. “There are pluses and minuses.”
University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols said the idea will be analyzed once other, more pressing matters have been attended.
“We haven’t quite gotten to that yet, but we will,” she said. “There’s several areas that I think need to be examined, but there’s a short list in my head we need to get after — we have to get FY 2017 figured out. You just can’t do everything at once. But as we start getting other things done, we’ll start moving forward with these other ideas.”