Budget blues: Cuts to combat falling gradute school enrollment

As students begin classes and hunker down for winter quarter, a potential fight is brewing over cuts outlined in DePaul’s annual 2013-14 budget proposal. Citing a reduction in federal subsidies for graduate loans, falling graduate school enrollment, cuts in state and federal sources for student funds, rising costs of doing business and “challenging market dynamics,” DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider highlighted several areas for potential change in an email to faculty last week.

Some of the possible initiatives proposed for staff include delaying eligible salary raises six months from July 2013 to January 2014, limiting paid vacation carryover starting in 2013 from one week to two weeks, offering voluntary unpaid leave (up to 15 days) for those interested and a general slowdown in hiring.

“At this point, the Driehaus College of Business is deferring the hiring of two faculty members,” Ray Whittington, dean of the Driehaus College of Business, said.

In addition to proposed cuts, the university’s plan includes raising undergraduate tuition 2.5 percent, the same as last year’s adjustment, “in keeping, we believe, with inflation and rising costs,” according to Fr. Holtschneider’s email. Other projected increases include graduate tuition, which is predicted to rise between 1.7 percent and 4.8 percent, depending on market and financial conditions.

Cynthia Lawson, vice president of DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications, commented on the proposed cost-saving measures.

“The most significant reductions are occurring at the departmental level. Each administrative area or college has been asked to reduce their budget by a specific amount,” said Lawson. “Although those amounts differ for each area, it is up to each VP to determine how best to implement those reductions so as to minimize the impact of those reductions.”

Donald Casey, dean of the School of Music, says the cuts “should not be felt or even visible” to students in his school. “The School of Music has been asked to reduce our expenditures for the next fiscal year by only about $25,000, and we have determined that we can accomplish that by reducing discretionary spending in the Office of the Dean,” Casey said.

Proposed cost-saving measures sought actively by the university also include consolidating DePaul’s Rolling Meadows campus with the O’Hare campus, saving $1 million a year; renegotiating vendor contracts to save $4 million over two years; completing energy projects that would total $1 million in annual savings and ending lease-financed purchasing along with introducing stricter contracting rules.

Despite the talks of budget cuts, the university admitted its largest freshman class ever last fall, at 2,593 students, for a record institutional enrollment of 16,498 undergraduates. Graduate enrollment, however, decreased over the past year, a possible factor in the university’s drive for cost-cutting measures.

The university highlighted several areas of improvement in the new budget, including a projected increase in full-time undergraduate enrollment, a 6 percent increase in institutional financial aid for students and a 2 percent base compensation increase pool for all eligible staff.

DePaul reaffirmed funding for its College of Computing and Digital Media partnership, as well as one with Rosalind Franklin focused on increasing enrollment in nursing and health fields. Also included was a commitment to investing in “first-rate facilities for our various academic programs,” including an extensive renovation of the John T. Richardson Library in Lincoln Park.

Jay Braatz, vice president for planning and presidential administration at DePaul, acts as chief-of-staff for Fr. Holtschneider. Braatz cites the decline in graduate enrollment as a major factor in the proposed cost-cutting measures.

“The declines we are seeing in graduate enrollments is largely because the government has stopped subsidizing graduate loans to the degree it has in the past, and higher education nationwide is feeling the effect,” Braatz said.

Braatz denied that DePaul’s recent real estate acquisitions have impacted the upcoming budget, saying that funding for the projects has already been secured. She did, however, mention that the university is “considering a new venue” for DePaul’s basketball programs, and said that the university is “in full study mode … for how we would be able to pay for any of the options on the table.”

In light of the current budget situation, Fr. Holtschneider and his cabinet have pledged to forgo next-year salary increases for the next academic year.

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