University of Northern Colorado President Andy Feinstein. Courtesy UNC

UNC president pleads for more state funding as university mulls layoffs

GREELEY — As the University of Northern Colorado prepares for another round of cuts to its staff, President Andy Feinstein is warning that the state’s higher education funding levels aren’t enough to sustain its universities.

In a letter to campus Friday, Feinstein said the university’s latest cost-cutting plan could result in the layoff of up to 65 non-faculty staff members and eliminate several other unfilled positions by mid-March.

Those layoffs come almost a year after UNC announced a series of other moves to quell a $10 million budget deficit, including offering retirement buyouts, reducing tuition waivers for dependents of employees, shifting more of the health insurance cost burden to workers and asking departments to cut $8.5 million.

Feinstein spent the weekend responding to messages from UNC students and employees and held a Sunday morning meeting of his cabinet on the next steps for the university.

“I certainly fielded dozens of emails from faculty, students and staff that had questions, expressed concerns about what they had just heard, and rightfully so,” he said in an interview with BizWest.

One of the goals mentioned in his letter was to set up “administrative service centers” where non-faculty employees would handle supporting roles to multiple departments at once, rather than the traditional system of each department having its own dedicated staff. Feinstein also told BizWest there are cost savings to make in cutting underused housing and dining services, along with other departments across the university.

The university has yet to determine how much it could save by the consolidations.

 

State support woes

Feinstein said the failure of Proposition CC at the ballot box last year wasn’t crucial to the administration’s thought process, although he acknowledged the additional estimated $100 million or so of additional revenue to higher education would have been helpful.

Nor does the university believe that its sudden drop in enrollment poses a significant revenue problem. UNC’s enrollment fell by 600 students from last spring to this current semester to a total of 10,818, according to the latest count. The university strategically dropped enrollment, Feinstein said, but has had a net gain in tuition revenue by changing how it gives scholarships to students based on their academic ability and their families’ ability to contribute.

Feinstein puts the onus for the cuts solely on chronic underfunding from state lawmakers.

Colorado’s most current state budget appropriates $1.11 billion to higher education from its general fund. That equates to $192.23 per capita in the current fiscal year, the fifth-lowest state in the U.S. in terms of contribution and just more than $100 per person less than the national average, according to data compiled by Illinois State University’s Grapevine Center for higher education funding research.

Gov. Jared Polis’ most recent budget request to lawmakers calls for a $26 million increase to funding for all of the public universities in the state in the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget, or a 2 percent increase over last year’s increase to the budget. He also proposed capping tuition increases to 3 percent on average.

But Feinstein said that figure wouldn’t be enough to cover a legislative proposal for a 3 percent wage increase for state-classified employees, much less close UNC’s ongoing budget shortfall, raise wages elsewhere or tackle its backlog of building repairs.

“It’s a paltry amount of money across all of higher education,” he said.

The heads of Colorado’s public universities estimate they would need a funding increase of 7 percent just to cover inflation for operating costs alone. Feinstein said he and his colleagues are optimistic that the state’s budget writers are going to offer more funding to colleges, even though the legislature is wrangling with other key funding priorities.

So at what point would these cuts begin to hurt UNC’s effectiveness at teaching and graduating students? 

The university’s employees haven’t had raises in two and a half years, and building maintenance is being deferred to the tune of millions of dollars. Feinstein said the university has managed to keep its academic quality from declining, but he doesn’t know how long that can be maintained before the short-term frugality turns into long-term financial pain.

“I think there’s still flexibility at the university to make strategic investments in improving education here with the resources that we have, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “…We’re making these decisions to prioritize the educational experience over making sure that we fix all the cracks in our sidewalks and making sure all our buildings have roofs that don’t leak.”

GREELEY — As the University of Northern Colorado prepares for another round of cuts to its staff, President Andy Feinstein is warning that the state’s higher education funding levels aren’t enough to sustain its universities.

In a letter to campus Friday, Feinstein said the university’s latest cost-cutting plan could result in the layoff of up to 65 non-faculty staff members and eliminate several other unfilled positions by mid-March.

Those layoffs come almost a year after UNC announced a series of other moves to quell a $10 million budget deficit, including offering retirement buyouts, reducing tuition waivers for dependents of employees, shifting more of the health insurance cost burden to workers and asking departments to cut $8.5 million.

Feinstein spent the weekend responding to messages from UNC students and employees and held a Sunday morning meeting of his cabinet on the next steps for the university.

“I certainly fielded dozens of emails from faculty, students and staff that had questions, expressed concerns about what they had just heard, and rightfully so,” he said in an interview with BizWest.

One of the goals mentioned in his letter was to set up “administrative service centers” where non-faculty employees would handle supporting roles to multiple departments at once, rather than the traditional system of each department having its own dedicated staff. Feinstein also told BizWest there are cost savings to make in cutting underused housing and dining services, along with other departments across the university.

The university has yet to…