Two words: budget cuts.
Not any establishment's favorite words to hear but unfortunately due to COVID-19, UHM finds itself having to navigate these cuts and establish a budget that not only keeps a school up and running but keeps its students thriving.
So far, UH executives have taken pay cuts to remedy the large budget deficit and proposals to reduce certain academic departments have been tabled. This has left students wondering if their academic programs and athletics might be on the chopping block.
The Board of Regents and UH administrators have discussed the issue in the past several live-streamed meetings where students, faculty and staff wrote personal statements opposing the proposal to reduce programs as well as the regents and administration going back and forth on the dire situation COVID-19 has presented.
The two big aspects of UHM’s budget are general funds provided by the state and revenue from tuition.
“With the number of general funds and tuition revenue together, we are looking at about 70 plus million in the reduction of revenue,” Kalbert Young, UH’s Vice President for Budget and Finance, said.
Receiving approximately $544 million in state general funds and roughly $400 million in tuition revenue, UH is looking at an approximate 10% reduction in funds.
“UH is planning for adjustments based on what we have gotten thus far in revenue and what we forecast will be the revenue hit for the rest of the year,” Young said. “Mānoa is looking for potential areas of reduction, as far as academic programs it looks like they are not eliminating the programs themselves but just the degree in the programs.”
While that seems to alleviate some worry, Young then said, “Shaving off 70 million dollars isn’t so easy. That’s a lot of money even when you’re talking about a nearly $1 billion university operating budget. It is hard to skinny up programs and hit 70 million dollars, you’re not going to trim around the edges to get there.”
Where does this leave athletics?
“Athletics is also in the mix and the hard part is athletics wasn’t really self-sustaining before COVID-19 and now with no ticket sales they’re in a worse-off condition,” Young said. “With COVID-19 and what the prospects are after the pandemic, I think they have a much higher hurdle than academics does.”
Many students wonder if there is going to be discounted tuition for online semesters.
Young said, “UH stated early on that we were not going to have a tuition differential for online lessons. The mode of the curriculum is really embedded into whatever the price of tuition is so whether you’re paying for an in-person, online or hybrid experience it’s still the same price.”
While trying to keep UHM at the level it has been at for its students, officials predict that the budget cut is going to be even larger next year.
“The amount of general funds we are looking at being reduced this year is going to be nothing compared to next year,” Young said.
Although state general funds are predicted to be reduced in the coming year(s), Young believes that there is a chance that tuition revenue could increase as more people want to go back to university and get their degrees or get retrained for new jobs.
While the anticipation of budget cuts can be stressful for many, Young insists that the process the university is going through is very deliberative and will put the needs of students and faculty first.
“It’s a very long process and we are trying to be sure that UH can not only survive this fiscal year but also position itself to be relevant for our customers next year and long enough for students to get their degrees,” Young said.
Young concluded by saying, “We are not going to be the same university five years from now but the process we are going through right now is more deliberative than what I’ve seen at the state level. That should give students, faculty and employees some comfort during these uncertain and trying times.”
The budget for the next fiscal year will be presented to the Board of Regents and will be discussed at this week’s BOR meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19. The minutes, agendas and livestream link for UH BOR meetings can be found at https://www.hawaii.edu/offices/bor/.