Addressing Fiscal Challenges as a Public University

Addressing Fiscal Challenges as a Public University

Dr. Bill Path

OSUIT is a public institution of higher education that depends on taxpayer support as its primary source of operational funding. Due to the state-wide budget crisis, the last four years have been the most fiscally challenging in OSUIT’s history. So I wanted to use today’s column to address some questions about OSUIT’s budget.

Q: Has OSUIT had to face budget cuts like the public schools?

Yes and worse. Since 2015, the budget cuts to higher education have been more severe than those handed down to any other public sector or state agency in Oklahoma. OSUIT has experienced a 32% decrease in state funding since 2015. That’s a loss of nearly 1/3 of our appropriated budget for day-to-day operations. Today, OSUIT is being funded like we were in 1994—a twenty-five year setback in our ability to pay salaries and perform the general operations of the campus.

Q: How has OSUIT managed the reductions in state aid?

It hasn’t been easy, but OSUIT has implemented numerous budget reduction strategies since the budget crisis began. In no particular order, we have: eliminated administrative positions, trimmed departmental budgets, implemented zero-based budgeting, placed a soft freeze on hiring, tracked utility usage in each building, maximized our energy management plan, deferred campus maintenance where possible, cutback on certain campus services, curtailed out-of-state travel, eliminated numerous open positions, conducted limited layoffs, streamlined the organizational structure, shifted key positions to auxiliary accounts, provided an early retirement incentive, closed our remote learning site at the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, reassigned workers, initiated a three month hold open period on vacant positions, hired an accounting firm to audit all academic operations, strategically reduced our course offerings, and eliminated five high-cost majors with low-enrollments.

These have been difficult choices to make because they are dramatically transforming the business habits of this institution. But we’ve been careful to consider the impact each decision would have on students. Our goal has been to reduce spending while having the least amount of impact on the educational process. We have not yet maximized the savings from these reduction strategies, because some will require years to fully implement. But I’m proud to tell you we’ve already reduced annual academic costs significantly (by nearly $4 million since 2015).

Along with our efforts to cut spending, we’ve pursued several revenue generation strategies. Notably, we have: renegotiated third-party contracts, pursued energy rebates, increased tuition and academic service fees, focused efforts on student retention, gone after numerous external grants, increased private donations through a successful capital campaign, expanded rental income with downtown housing, identified and partnered with new corporate/industry sponsors, expanded enrollments in certain programs of study, and marketed to a previously untapped audience with the new Bachelor of Technology in Applied Technical Leadership.

We are creating a new business model at OSUIT. We’ve found ways to become more self-sufficient and proactively balanced our budget within the reality of less state support. It’s unclear exactly how much new revenue will be generated by these strategies, but it should more than make up for recent cuts in state appropriations to OSUIT.

Please send additional questions to osuit-president@okstate.edu.