New College potentially facing further budget cuts

With the economy in dire shape, New College is waiting to find out how much money the state will grant it for the next fiscal year. The school is facing budget cuts from eight to 13 percent of its operating budget. Yet, there is a small chance that NCF will receive $1.3 million from the state in start-up funds that it never received when it became independent from the University of South Florida in 2002.

“I just don’t want students to start saying that ‘this is the end of the world, I need to transfer,’” Vice President of Finance and Administration John Martin said. “New College is one of the jewels in the Florida state university belt and the college will continue. Who knows, we may end up with more money or a lot less cut.”

Before the House and the Senate meet in a conference committee in the next two weeks to determine the amount of state funding that NCF will receive, each branch proposed its idea on how much money should be cut from the institution’s funding (see sidebar). The House was kinder to New College with its budget cuts — NCF has the third lowest amounts of cuts among the Florida state universities. The Senate was much more “draconian,” as Martin said, in gashing funds allotted to New College, cutting 14.9 percent of the money that the state has given the school in the past.

New College is more dependent on state funds for its operating budget than larger universities in the Florida state system because of its small enrollment. The cost for one administration, base operating costs and a police force is spread among 800 students rather than 50,000 students. Thus, 73 percent of NCF’s funding comes from the state, as opposed to other universities, who receive an average of 54 percent of their funding from the state and 46 percent of their funding from tuition.“That’s why we work with the legislature in both the House and Senate so that they understand that when they cut us on appropriations, we can’t make it up nearly as well as other universities can on the tuition side,” Martin explained. “The House’s cuts were more of a permanent nature, [while] the Senate’s cuts were planned primarily for one year only … they said [that] the following year we’ll go back up to where we were [this year].”

In the past five years, New College has lost $5 million in state-appropriated funds. “While other universities were going through with lay-offs and getting rid of majors, New College has been able to preserve its academic programs,” Martin said. “We’ve made great strides in reducing energy consumption. The faculty divisions have cut back on their spending. As positions have become vacant, the college has eliminated them and redistributed the work or just eliminated it. When a faculty member retires or leaves, we hold the position open for a year or two and use a visiting professor for a year or two to save costs … with the idea that the economy is going to turn around so that [eventually] we can then reduce our reliance on adjuncts and visiting professors.”

New College used its “rainy day” money to cover the state’s cuts for this academic year, which marks the last year that NCF will receive $1.5 million in federal stimulus money. As a consequence, New College will most likely have a tighter budget to work with in the coming year. “We might have to deploy some furlough days,” Martin said. “It may be may be that we have to say to employees, ‘We can’t pay you today, so don’t come in.’ It all depends on the size of the reduction and the extent to which we are deploying our cash reserves.” He stressed that if this needed to happen, a campus-wide dialogue about where to make the cuts would occur.

“I wouldn’t panic over these numbers,” Martin said. “It will probably look maybe a little closer to the House [version]. We may actually see some new money. Of all the years that I’ve been doing this — and it’s been 30 years plus — the range is pretty far apart. That crystal ball is still pretty cloudy and it’s going to get a lot clearer in the next two to three weeks. Our lobbies in Tallahassee are doing a very good job and saying that we are too small for the kind of cut that the Senate has been discussing.”

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