While the Nebraska state government is in the midst of a funding surplus, the state’s largest university — the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — is facing a significant budget deficit.
Over the next two years, UNL must address a $23.2 million budget shortfall. According to Nebraska Today, decreased enrollment, record graduating classes, COVID-19-related international enrollment challenges and greater tuition discounts have each contributed to the deficit.
While university leaders project that $12.42 million of the deficit will be recovered through future enrollment revenue, UNL is planning to make $10.77 million in permanent budget reductions.
The initial proposals for permanent reductions are set to become public by April 14, and public hearings about the proposals will be conducted by the Academic Planning Committee through May 26. The final budget reductions will be made public in early June.
To put it simply: the university will be making permanent budget cuts to the tune of over $10 million in the next few weeks, and students have the opportunity to make their voices heard throughout the process.
While I have no reason to doubt the motives of Chancellor Ronnie Green and the Academic Planning Committee, it is important for anyone with any connection to the university to take an active role in submitting feedback and advocating for programs that they care about.
As I mentioned in my last article, I am just an average college student with a few opinions I put out on the internet almost every week. I don’t have the economic background necessary to know how best to go about reducing $10 million from a budget while maintaining an institution’s mission — let alone at a state land-grant university.
And most likely, dear reader, you are not an expert in this stuff either.
It is important to have some cursory knowledge of university budgets and funding in order to effectively advocate for programs, scholarships and faculty positions, but it does not take an economic expert to care about what gets funded and what gets cut.
Advocacy alone does not guarantee a happy ending, but there is precedent for UNL programs finding funding after initially being on the chopping block during a budget reduction process.
In fall 2020, it seemed as though the UNL dance program was on its way out. The university had proposed $18.9 million in budget cuts in academic programs, and the dance program was slated to be cut entirely.
In the case of UNL dance, outside sources — including the Hixson-Lied Endowment and Friends of Dance — came through with enough funding to keep the program going. In some cases, outside funding may be the best option, but without an $18 million endowment fund like Hixson-Lied, that route could be challenging.
UNL’s textiles, merchandising and fashion design program was also on the chopping block in fall 2020 but was ultimately saved after an Academic Planning Committee hearing where about 70 people testified.
A six-page guide with ways to help save the textiles, merchandising and fashion design program was also part of the successful campaign, and many of the ideas in it could be easily adapted for future advocacy efforts with other academic programs.
The upcoming task for Chancellor Green and the Academic Planning Committee is not enviable, but it is an unavoidable reality of higher education.
In fact, three of Nebraska’s Big Ten peers are facing even larger budget shortfalls, with two institutions — Penn State University and Rutgers University — finding themselves more than $100 million in the red.
And while UNL’s overall enrollment has declined each of the last three years, Nebraska’s decline of just over 5% between 2020 and 2022 is still better than the nation as a whole, where college enrollment declined by 7.4%.
The announcements made over the next few weeks may not be great news — particularly for students in smaller academic programs — but it is important for the university community to be prepared.
I, too, have a few programs and initiatives I would like to see get funded, and I plan to write about them more in-depth over the next few weeks as the 2023-24 fiscal year budget process moves forward.
Speculating over the potential for negative outcomes now does not do any good, but being informed about the process never hurt anyone.
I may be leaving the university as a student in seven weeks, but I still want to see UNL continue to thrive moving forward.
And if you’re a Daily Nebraskan reader who’s made it this far in the article, I trust that you do, too.
Brian Beach is a senior journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com.