FSU faces limited enrollment, lean budget year

Reflecting the proactive stance they have taken all year, the Florida State University Board of Trustees has unanimously adopted a budget for 2008-09 and taken the unprecedented step of also approving a budget plan for 2009-10.

Dealing with a $31-million loss in state funding, the trustees and the FSU administration have unveiled actions designed to stabilize the university while being true to its mission of providing an outstanding education.

"The trustees have done an excellent job of managing the operations of the university during these dire budget times," FSU President T.K. Wetherell said.

"Our allocation from the Legislature includes $9 million in lottery money, but we are concerned because these revenues are contingent upon money coming from newly created games.

"Meanwhile, actual revenues have fallen short of every revenue estimate. This two-year budget was developed to provide security and stability well into the future."

Trustees approved a plan that holds enrollment at funded levels into 2010, begins to look at reorganizing academic units on campus and reduces services where possible — but that also continues FSU’s nationally recognized commitment to financial aid for economically disadvantaged students and aims to assist lower-paid faculty and staff.

"Careful long-range planning that started almost two years ago has helped us to ward off erosions in quality," Wetherell said. "For example, we will allocate $4.6 million to need-based financial aid in addition to $951,449 that was required to be set aside as a percentage of the tuition increase."

Faced with significant budget challenges, the university’s only viable option was to begin to limit enrollment to only the number of students that the state had approved and funded. At least 2,000 fewer students will be enrolled than last year, about 1,200 fewer freshmen and 800 fewer transfer students. In addition, fall semester will find:

  • More than 200 faculty and staff positions eliminated or not filled as a result of lack of funding.
  • The loss of more than 100 new faculty positions that would have been created.
  • Implementation of the Pathways of Excellence cluster hiring initiative extended from five to seven years.
  • Larger classes.
  • Less availability of computer labs.
  • Fewer full-time faculty and more teaching assistants, graduate assistants and adjunct faculty doing the teaching.
  • A 10-percent reduction in the university’s $25-million utility bill.
  • Adjusted hours for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at FSU to accomplish a goal of a $500,000 utility savings for that facility.
  • Travel restrictions on faculty to scientific and professional conferences as well as staff pursuing professional development programs.
  • Services reduced or in some cases privatized, such as reduced mail delivery.
  • Reductions in the number of staff training offerings and counselors available through the Employee Assistance Program.
  • Buildings cleaned less frequently; grass mowed less often; trash collection curtailed.
  • Reductions in new or replacement equipment purchases.

The lack of funding already has cost FSU valued assets — rising young stars and veteran faculty members who were recruited away. At least 62 have left since August (27 tenured, 35 tenure-earning), many for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. The trustees and the administration are concerned about faculty and staff facing $4/gallon gas and higher grocery bills and recognize the need to take action to hold onto the university’s most talented employees at all levels, Wetherell said. He cited the recent successful recruitment of outstanding new faculty through the Pathways of Excellence initiative as a bright spot on the horizon, but warned that this nationally recognized program cannot carry the entire university.

Retaining talent doesn’t just affect the classroom, Wetherell said. The cuts announced today and the ramifications of the adjustments along with continued revenue shortfall to the university could represent as much as a $100-million loss to the local economy for the 2008-09 academic year, he said.

"Declining state revenues and underfunding of higher education in Florida have put Florida State University in a difficult place, but we saw it coming," he said.

"FSU has taken aggressive steps to stabilize its budget and turn back serious threats to quality by limiting enrollment," Wetherell said. "We had no choice. We will protect the integrity of the teaching, research and service mission of the university and continue to enhance our standing as one of the top research and graduate education institutions in the nation."