Budget cuts, enrollment growth among topics tackled at WCU Opening Assembly

Chancellor David O. Belcher. Photo taken by Jarrett Frazier

Chancellor David O. Belcher. Photo taken by Jarrett Frazier

The story is from the Office of Public Relations

The collective efforts of faculty and staff to attract and retain larger numbers of students at Western Carolina University are helping the institution weather lingering budget constraints that otherwise would hamstring efforts to improve academic quality and enhance the student experience.

That was among the messages delivered Wednesday, Aug. 13, by WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher in his annual Opening Assembly address to kick off the fall semester.

“Let me say now – thank you for your individual and collective contributions to recruiting and retaining students,” he told faculty and staff in attendance at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. “The budget picture is daunting – there’s no question about it. But WCU continues year by year to strengthen its financial position because of enrollment growth, and again, I thank you for what you are doing to put us in a position envied by many other institutions in our state.”

Belcher began his remarks with an overview of the university’s budget situation, a scenario that includes both good news and what he termed “other news.”

The good budgetary news, he said, includes the fact that WCU should receive $3.2 million in enrollment growth funding for achieving its enrollment targets last year and an expected additional $1.6 million in tuition revenue associated with the increase in student numbers anticipated this fall.

In the category of “other news,” WCU’s state appropriations will be reduced again for the current fiscal year, with the anticipated cut perhaps as high as $2.1 million. Although the budget reduction should be offset by enrollment growth funding and additional tuition revenue, that means the university will not have those dollars to spend on other institutional priorities, Belcher said.

The issue of salary increases for university employees also wound up a mixed bag, he said. Employees who are classified as Subject to the Personnel Act, or SPA, will receive a state-legislated salary increase of $1,000 plus benefits, while the state budget does not include a designated legislative salary increase for faculty members and employees who are classified as Exempt from the Personnel Act, or EPA.

The General Assembly did provide the University of North Carolina system with $5 million in funding for EPA salaries, but if those dollars were allocated proportionally to each campus in the system, WCU would receive about $150,000, Belcher said. Western Carolina has approximately 600 EPA faculty and staff, and that $150,000 would not be sufficient to provide a meaningful increase equivalent to that provided to SPA employees, he said.

In addition, the university is expected to receive only about $150,000 in repair and renovation funding at a time when WCU has identified $40 million in critical repair and renovation needs, with a total repair and renovation price tag for critical and not-yet-critical needs closer to $200 million.

“The bottom line is this: Despite the fact that this budget scenario does not feel very good, our fiscal position continues to strengthen,” Belcher said. “And, because we will receive more money than we will be cut, we will be in a position to allocate funding to a small number of priorities.”

Belcher also shared with the crowd several budget imperatives facing the university this academic year, including covering the amount of the reduction in state appropriations and meeting mandatory and inflationary increases.

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