ASU closes in on budget shortfall

ALAMOSA — Adams State University is currently $7,300 away from eliminating a projected $800,000 general fund budget shortfall. However, the institution is still working on increasing revenue by $2.7 million.

Matt Nehring, the new acting president of Adams State University, spoke to the Valley Courier about the budgetary plans in between campus-wide meetings with faculty and staff on Thursday.

By not filling $70,000 worth of positions, dipping into $20,000 of reserves from the president’s office and along with $477,000 in pledged cuts, the university has almost gotten the general fund back in the black.

"That's a sizeable hole to fill in one semester's time," Nehring said. "We're pretty happy with where we sitting there and we're continuing to try to find a few dollars in case there’s unforeseen circumstances."

ASU was also able to save $150,000 in health insurance premiums, cut an estimated $20,000 by not having a board retreat and won't award $5,700 in tuition scholarships to employees studying at the university.

If the $7,300 general fund deficit is not made up by the end of the semester, ASU will use a portion of their reserves. However, Nehring stressed that the reserves won't be enough to make up for low enrollment. Currently enrollment has been on the decline since 2010.

Nehring elaborated on how the university came to a $2.7 million increase in annual revenue goal, which was approved by the Adams State University Board of Trustees on Feb. 15.

The university originally planned for an increase of $1 million in revenue each year based on Huron Consulting Group's report from last February. Yet with the Higher Learning Commission making a site visit in 2020, that annual amount was increased to $1.5 million.

Making cost of living adjustments for faculty and exempt staff costs $294,000, the state mandated increases for classified staff costs $108,000 and raising salaries to reach College and University Professional Association's 72.5 percent parity benchmark among other universities costs $156,000. Combining all of those figures while budgeting for 5 percent less in enrollment, which comes out to $680,000, the university needs a total of $2,738,000.

Most of the difference will be made up in cuts. Departments have been prioritizing their programs using a set of criteria and an evaluated list will be sent out internally this afternoon. After a series of discussions, the board will approve the recommended cuts during their regular meeting on April 5 and 6. The board will then approve a budget in May that reflects those reductions.

"We'll give them a list with real dollar amounts assigned to them, and unfortunately in many cases that means real positions. It's not sustainable going forward without that. We don’t have $2.7 million in discretionary funds that we can eliminate."

Expanding revenue streams in graduate programs and increasing recruitment can also help reach the goal. Roughly 100 new undergraduate students equals $1 million in additional revenue.

"We would need another $2.7 million next year, but a good chunk of that for the fiscal 2019-2020 year could come in the form of enrollment," said Nehring. "We just don't know. Eighteen months from now is a long time and things might look much better in August of 2019.”

Nehring also clarified his current role at the university. As he is still the interim vice president of academic affairs and acting president, he is not actively teaching as a physics professor. Some duties, such as recommending faculty for tenure, have been delegated to Assistant Vice President for Graduate Studies Penny Sanders since Nehring cannot make a recommendation to himself.

He will remain acting president until the board and Beverlee McClure resolve their differences or she separates herself from the university. There is no interim president and a search for another president hasn't begun because McClure is still the president while on leave.

"I don't have any idea on how long it will take for them to resolve the differences between president McClure and the board," said Nehring. "Until they get that resolved, we don't know what's going to happen."

Having not applied for the vice president of academic affairs, he eventually wants to return to being a professor. Yet Nehring said he is committed to the role and said it's not uncommon for vice presidents to become acting presidents.

"The board has expressed to me that they feel confident with the leadership I've been providing in the academic side and feel I have good grasp," said Nehring. "When there is a significant need that arises and someone believes I can fulfill that role on some sort of basis I feel a sense of obligation to step forward and shoulder some responsibility there."

Nehring will likely meet with the Institutional Appeals Committee on April 23, instead of McClure, to discuss the Higher Learning Commission's recommendation to remove the academic probation sanction from ASU.

Not being in the boardroom during the executive session, Nehring couldn't comment on why McClure was placed on leave.