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With rising tuition costs, lower enrollment and fringe benefit changes, the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) has seen a budget shortfall of $11.9 Million this fiscal year.
That’s about 8-percent of the school’s budget.
“It’s a challenging time,” said UMD’s Chancellor Lendley Black. “But as I said to the faculty in October and also in August this is not a total crisis situation.”
UMD is now charged with trimming their budget to make up for the loss of money. Black says this situation occurred for a number of reasons.
“Enrollment numbers are fluctuating, state support for higher education is fluctuating, and so this is a way for us to stay focused on our strengths,” Black said. “And also it’s a way for us to be focused on financial sustainability.”
To help solve the budget issue the school started a process that is called “Project Prioritization;” a process that allows the Chancellor and administrators to closely evaluate how UMD spends its money.
It evaluates both academic and non-academic programs. This includes everything from classes and majors to recreational programs and student activities.
Kimberly Newton is the Student Association President, and has been working as the “middleman” between administrators and students during what some call a tense and emotional process.
“At first glance students are up in arms, I know I at first did,” Newton said. “But you learn about the process and learn it's good for the university. I think this a way of preparing themselves to not be in a bad position later on down the road."
The main goal is to spend university money efficiently.
But some students are worried and confused about what that means, and what programs they might lose.
“It's just kind of the misconception of what the process actually is and thinking that we’re going to be losing a lot more than we really are,” Newton said.
Chancellor Black agrees times are tough, but also thinks UMD is turning a corner.
“People are concerned and I understand that, and it's a challenging time and i understand that,” Black said. “I don't have any major concerns, it's a challenge, it's not fun, but there are some upsides as well."
Those upsides, according to Black, include helping UMD assess budget spending, tighten spending habits and become more efficient overall.
Earlier this year each program had a chance to make a case against these budget changes in front of an administrative panel. Now that those discussions are over Chancellor Black will start making the final budget decisions starting this month.