College and School Budget Cuts

What: An enrollment shortfall and unprecedented number of students switching from out-of-state to in-state status triggered an $11.5 million budget shortfall at the University of Colorado. The deficit is being shored up with increased summer session revenue, a contingency fund and shared cuts across the campus -- with reductions hitting technology and deferred maintenance budgets. Colleges and schools are taking proportionate cuts, too.

Here's how the cuts have been distributed:

College of Arts and Sciences: $1.47 million

Leeds School of Business: $238,014

School of Education: $63,957

College of Engineering and Applied Science: $463,187

Journalism and Mass Communication: $46,945

School of Law: $210,818

College of Music: $122,491

Graduate School: $159,459

Source: University of Colorado

Becca Bullard was split between the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

In a college admissions landscape that is becoming more like tug-of-war between schools, a new scholarship for high-achieving Colorado students was the final pull she needed to commit to CU. The financial-aid package also won over her twin brother, James Bullard, an incoming freshman who will be studying international affairs at CU in the fall -- but had been considering a private college in the Midwest.

"In the end, CU offered more money," Becca Bullard said.

CU's $2.5 million scholarship pot is a new recruiting tool to help the school enroll top in-state students. And it's an asset that could help officials hit their enrollment target so they aren't sucker-punched by another budget shortfall this year. Officials believe the scholarship package was the nudge an extra 100 students needed to commit.

Last fall, fewer students enrolled at CU than expected and the university saw an unprecedented number of out-of-state students gain residency so they could pay in-state rates. Combined, those two factors triggered an $11.5 million budget shortfall and overall enrollment was down about 1.7 percent.

CU officials, in response, have deployed several new strategies to make sure they come closer to the enrollment mark while also netting some of Colorado's brightest students.

The freshman class numbered 5,472 last year. This year, Admissions Director Kevin MacLennan said the school is on track to enroll between 5,700 and 5,800 students in the incoming class.

"We're expecting very strong enrollment," MacLennan said. "We've got another month until we get to the campus census, but we're hopeful."

Hitting bullseye on enrollment targets

 

Hitting enrollment targets in the fall is a precise science that requires running numbers on a weekly basis and aggressively courting students until they commit, higher education officials say.

In an era when state funding for higher education has dipped to new lows -- it will be about 4.5 percent next year at CU -- and Colorado public universities become more tuition-dependent, there's little wiggle room in recruiting the right size freshman class.

"It's an effort that has to be as exact as possible or else you're damned," said higher education expert Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "There's no such thing as a fudge factor working in your favor."

If schools are too optimistic in their forecasts and come up short of the ideal target number, they have budget shortfalls. If they recruit too many students, there's a whole other set of problems -- like housing crunches, not enough classroom space and strains on food services, Nassirian said.

Even sophisticated forecasting models can't predict when patterns veer from historical norms -- like the financial crisis that prompted families to seek out more affordable schools, Nassirian said. Today's students are also much more likely to hedge their bets and apply to a dozen colleges rather than just a few.

"The admissions cycle doesn't come to an end until the applicant shows up on campus for class," Nassirian said.

For the upcoming admissions cycle, admission forecasting could get a new variable: CU, for the first time ever, will offer applicants the option of filling out a Common Application. CU joins about 500 other schools offering the Common App. It's common for schools to see spikes in applications because of the standard application, however that doesn't always correlate with equally higher matriculation rates.

Stepped-up recruiting

 

Come fall, Becca Bullard will study engineering at CU -- baited largely by the financial aid package that leaves her with a remaining tuition balance of $2,000 in her first year of school.

Granted, she and her twin brother -- who also received a scholarship package at CU -- are foregoing the $12,250 per person annual housing and dining fee and will be living at home in Milliken and carpooling to campus.

In-state tuition on the Boulder campus for students in the College of Arts and Sciences is increasing by 8.7 percent to $8,760.

In the aftermath of last year's enrollment shortfall, CU deployed several recruiting strategies recognizing that out-of-state recruiters were cherry-picking the state's best students and were armed with competitive scholarship offers.

"Colorado residents are being recruited out of state more than in the past," said Kelly Fox, chief financial officer at CU. "The whole game is more competitive and that's in large part why we've put in place new measures."

The "CU-Boulder Esteemed Scholars Program" awards financial aid to a select group of resident freshmen, with awards totaling $10,000 to $20,000 over four years and doled out based on their high-school grade point averages and test scores.

The campus created some padding for enrollment fluctuations with a $2.3 million contingency fund in the fiscal year that began July 1. And, regents, deans and professors all joined in a recruitment campaign that involved writing letters and calling students still on the fence.

That comes on top of efforts already in place. The campus, for example, purchases names of students who perform well on tests and begin recruiting them in 10th grade. In August, CU hosts an event on campus for Colorado students entering their high school senior years so the school can showcase academic service programs they might interest them. In the spring, CU hosts an "Admitted Students" day for students and their families.

Additionally, Paul Chinowsky -- an engineering professor and chairman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly -- has started up a new faculty mentorship program for first-year students to give the campus of about 30,000 students a smaller feel.

The program will be in a pilot phase this year with 130 faculty members volunteering. They'll each mentor about 10 to 12 students and the idea, Chinowsky said, is to link students with faculty members in a field outside of their major so they can get a broader view of the campus.

The program, he said, could help foster a sense of community and be used as a recruiting tool in the future.

Budget impacts of shortfall

 

Deans at CU's colleges are putting in place plans for cuts after the budget shortfall last year -- with the schools each being tasked with cutting about 1.6 percent from their budgets.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, for example, Dean Steven Leigh sees potential redundancy in several departments offering statistics courses. The College of Arts and Sciences, which is the largest college on the campus, will need to come up with $1.47 million in cuts.

Over in the journalism department, director Christopher Braider said he reduced the budget by $47,000 by eliminating a staff position.

Malinda Miller-Huey, a spokeswoman for the campus, said the college budget reductions in many cases will be made by not filling some positions that come open.

The deficit is being shored up with increased summer session revenue, a $2.2 million contingency fund and shared cuts across the campus that reached the administration's budget and Office of Information Technology.

Additionally, the university will have fewer funds to invest in deferred maintenance in the upcoming year.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.