Christ.  Scholarship.  Service.

University tightens belt, trims small programs

HUNTINGTON, IND-As Indiana's public universities are responding to Gov. Mitch Daniels' plan to cut $150 million from the state's higher education budget, private colleges are also adjusting budgets in response to gloomy economic conditions.

Huntington University, a Christian college of 1,300 students near Fort Wayne, plans to trim $1.8 million from its $30 million budget next year. Details were announced to faculty and staff by President G. Blair Dowden on December 15, with follow-up letters sent to students in affected programs.

"Early in the fall, we recognized that many issues beyond our control -such as the decrease in state scholarship funding, reduced unrestricted gift support and a smaller-than-anticipated enrollment - would impact our financial position," Dowden told employees. He added that while HU was able to balance the budget through one-time adjustments this year, 2010 would be "a different story."

Dowden said that converging economic factors had brought about to a financial "perfect storm." The State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana (SSACI) late last summer cut student grants by 31%, forcing HU to expend its entire $750,000 contingency fund to make up the difference. Volatile market conditions have led to more than half a million dollars in reduced endowment income and charitable giving. Although HU enrolled a record-breaking class this year, total enrollment was lower than initially projected, leading to a deficit of $320,000. The university has developed more conservative enrollment estimates for next year and revised its tuition revenue projections.

"I would not characterize our situation as a crisis," Dowden said. "I am confident that our ship is sound and that we will weather this storm, and I am confident in God's providence. But if these challenges are left unaddressed, we will soon be faced with a crisis. It is vitally important, therefore, that we act now."

Dowden outlined an array of budget adjustments planned for 2010. Two academic programs will be suspended: the Master of Arts in Ministry Leadership and the undergraduate major in Spanish. Both have small enrollments.

The University will reduce or eliminate some contracted services. The University will reduce the number of course sections or infrequently offered classes, decreasing the number of adjunct instructors. The University's contribution to employee retirement plans will be reduced. Two currently vacant staff positions will be eliminated, and the University will delay filling two other positions for up to three years. One faculty and three staff positions will be eliminated at the end of the academic year.

Dowden also summarized a wide array of other budget adjustments, ranging from grounds-keeping to administrative travel.

He thanked personnel for their commitment and perseverance. "As I have talked with many of you about these budget changes, an important truth has been affirmed: We have a remarkably dedicated faculty and staff at Huntington University. The demonstration of shared sacrifice that I have witnessed is truly exemplary. I want you to know how much I appreciate you, especially during this difficult and unsettling time for all of us. You have truly demonstrated your commitment to each other, to the Lord and to this University."

Dowden emphasized that not all budgets would be cut in 2010. He said some additional strategic expenditures will be made next year to accelerate the University's growth and build on the quality of its programs.

"Budget decisions must lead toward accomplishing the University's goals as outlined in our current strategic plan," Dowden said. "This will require some new investments in areas that will help grow enrollment and revenue. As much as possible, we will avoid general, across-the-board cuts, and instead focus on strategic budget adjustments."

"We have gone into this process with much prayer and with the knowledge that we serve a faithful and loving Lord. He has guided and uplifted this University for 114 years. In fact, He has guided this institution through times that were much worse than what we are facing today."