The University of Louisville board of trustees on Thursday unanimously approved their $1.2 billion operating budget for the upcoming 2017-2018 academic year, which will freeze student tuition for the first time in 16 years.
University officials were able to craft a balanced budget despite what they had projected in February to be a $48 million shortfall, created by the loss in expected revenue from tuition hikes and a significant reduction in funding from the troubled UofL Foundation that manages its roughly $800 million endowment. While trustees kept a pledge made by the previous version of the board last year to finally freeze tuition, next year’s budget had to make up for these losses by instituting a salary freeze and hiring freeze for all staff and faculty, as well as putting off scheduled maintenance and repairs.
UofL officials had hoped to only institute a hiring “frost” — in which no more than 25 percent of vacancies would be filled — but last week interim provost Dale Billingsley announced that lower-than-expected enrollment for next fall had created another projected shortfall of $6 million, which required a full hiring freeze until at least Oct. 1. Altogether the operating budget for next year will be roughly $48 million less than the current year’s budget.
Students at UofL will get a welcome respite from another one of the tuition increases that have become the norm, as the in-state tuition rate has more than tripled since 2001, coinciding with a significant drop in state appropriations for public higher-education institutions. While tuition will remain at the same rate next year, certain student fees will be increased.
Trustees chairman J. David Grissom recently indicated he would like to see UofL institute a tuition freeze for several more consecutive years, citing Purdue University’s ability to do so for what will be six straight years, but some faculty and staff fear this would require more salary and hiring freezes and hurt academic programs.
Trustee Enid Trucios-Haynes, the faculty representative on the board, made a point of addressing that issue before the budget was approved, saying that “nearly 8 percent of this savings is coming from cuts to the general fund budget, which supports the academic enterprise.”
“The academic enterprise is built on people, and that’s faculty and staff that are doing the business of the university,” said Trucios-Haynes. “Teaching students, doing research and creative activity and scholarship. And it’s having a significant impact on the academic enterprise in order to meet the budget requirements, and now we have a hiring freeze through the first quarter of the next fiscal year… I think it needs to be said that that’s having a significant impact on the university as a whole.”
UofL interim President Greg Postel said that Trucios-Haynes’ point was well taken, and that human resources remains the largest part of their budget. Grissom, however, addressed her to say “I will predict that this is not the last cut. I think you’ll see a cut of similar size have to be taken in the next year or so.”
Trucios-Haynes replied “I just hope that we will be mindful of what the impact is on academic enterprise. That is the mission of the university, one of its essential functions,” to which Grissom said “fair point.”
This story has been updated.