Before the Legislature opens debate on the University of Nebraska’s state appropriation next week, university leaders delivered a letter to lawmakers Thursday addressing what they called frequently asked questions about NU’s finances.
One could even call them common misconceptions.
When NU’s budget comes to the floor next week — senators are scheduled to work until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, potentially setting up a marathon debate — Regents Rob Schafer of Beatrice and Tim Clare of Lincoln said they hope their answers will help inform the discussion.
“Our constituents ask us any number of questions about our budget and we wanted to be certain you had the facts,” reads the four-page letter signed by the chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Regents.
Gov. Pete Ricketts had proposed cutting the budgets of NU and the state and community colleges by 4 percent for the 2018-19 fiscal year, but the Appropriations Committee sent a budget to the full Legislature calling for only a 1 percent cut from each.
Instead of stripping $11.4 million from NU’s state aid for the remainder of this fiscal year as well as $23.2 million next year — cuts that would balloon the budget gap to $69 million — the Appropriations Committee will ask NU to cut $5.8 million next year.
President Hank Bounds said NU would cover this year’s $11.4 million in cuts by dipping into its cash reserve.
NU’s state appropriation was set at $580 million for 2018-19. Under Ricketts’ proposal, NU would receive $557 million at the beginning of the next biennium. That amount would increase to $574 million for 2019-20, the beginning of the next two-year budget cycle.
Students, faculty and other supporters inundated the Appropriations Committee hearing with support for NU on Feb. 14, and made their presence known at the Capitol earlier this week for an advocacy day.
Bounds said the regents’ letter was one more effort to educate the 40 lawmakers who don’t sit on the Appropriations Committee about NU’s impact on the state.
“Every person I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with and share this information with them, and then had the opportunity to talk about our comparisons with our peers understands this,” Bounds said Thursday. “But I haven’t met with everyone.”
Highlights from NU’s letter include:
* The university said it has roughly the same number of employees today as it did in 2000, despite systemwide enrollment jumping from 45,000 to 53,000 during that same time.
“We’re not saying we can’t find anymore efficiencies,” it reads, “but the fact is that we have been forced to become leaner over time while still growing our enrollment, producing more graduates, and doing more research.”
* NU also says that while its administrative costs have grown, the system and individual campuses remain below the averages of their peer institutions. UNL’s administrative costs are 125 percent lower than peers; UNO’s administrative costs are 64 percent below the peer average; and UNK’s administrative costs are 100 percent lower than the peer average, it states.
Bounds said the increases to administrative costs can be attributed to new initiatives such as the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, and the National Strategic Research Institute — many of which are partnerships between NU and the state.
“Could we stop investing and put the brakes on growth?” the regents’ letter says, “Of course, but the consequences, in our opinion, would not be good for students or Nebraskans.”
* NU also said while it does have a substantial number of employees earning six-figure salaries, it pays a fewer number of people $100,000 or more than comparable universities. The regents argued that figure instead should concern Nebraskans.
* Regents also said that two-thirds of its overall $2.6 billion budget is restricted because of the sources of funding. Federal grants are for specific purposes, while revenue bonds are generated with a project in mind. Neither can be used to cover costs outside of their intentions, the letter notes.
* The same is true for funds from private giving, in which “99.2 percent of donations to the NU Foundation are restricted and can only be used for specific purposes as determined by the donor,” according to the letter. “Donors don’t generally give to keep the lights on or fix a leaky roof.”