Many higher education institutions in Ohio and across the country are dealing with challenges that have resulted in the creation of “structural deficits” for their operating budgets. Simply stated, the current and forecasted level of revenue earned from student tuition/fees, state funding and other sources is not keeping pace with expenditures needed to operate institutions at their current levels. While many private and public institutions find their financial stability challenged, only those that are pro-active and adjust to changing circumstances will be able to continue fulfilling their missions.
For Cleveland State, some of the major causes for our structural deficit are1) changing student demographics that affect our enrollment; 2) state-mandated limits and freezes on tuition increases; 3) increased costs of operation; and 4) changes to state and federal education policies.
In an effort to maintain the financial viability of our institution, Cleveland State University is embarking upon Phase 2 of our Path to 2020 initiative, effective in January 2018. Phase 1 of the Path to 2020 during 2016 -2017 identified financial efficiencies that resulted in $3.2 million of permanent administrative expenditure savings in the University’s Operating Budget.
The focus of Phase 2 is to develop a plan for addressing the University’s “structural deficit” in the Operating Budget and will broaden the scope to both the administrative/institutional support areas, as well as the academic and academic support areas. This structural deficit is the result of flat enrollment, continuing undergraduate tuition freezes, tight state budgets and the increased cost for major expenditure items such as personnel, benefits, and undergraduate scholarships.
The traditional approach to balancing the University’s Operating Budget each year has been to seek departmental and programmatic reductions to planned expenditures so that total expenditures would match the amount of revenue expected from tuition, state funding, and other sources. This short-term approach to balancing the budget is no longer viable because the causes for our budget imbalance are no longer periodic, one-time events. Therefore, Cleveland State University, along with many other public four-year institutions, must shift its focus from short-term budget “fixes” to a longer term foundational plan sensitive to upcoming changes in student demographics (demand) and financial realities. The plan’s purpose must enable us to thrive while operating within the boundaries of realistic revenue levels. This also means identifying areas where additional funding, or investments, is needed to maintain strong programs and help promising initiatives take root and grow. Although we are referencing the structural deficit in the University’s Operating Budget, structural solutions recommendations will also be developed for the general fee budget and our auxiliary business units (bookstore, dining operations, and the Wolstein Center).
While certain four-year universities within Ohio have been forced to implement stringent initiatives to eliminate burdensome budget deficits, CSU currently rests upon a strong financial foundation. However, this does not mean we don’t face challenges. A failure to assess the structure, revenue sources and operating costs of the University at this time may ultimately place our ability to fulfill our student-focused mission in jeopardy. We currently have the advantage of addressing the structural deficit from a position of strength.
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