KU’s financial health remains point of debate between faculty union, administration

Samantha Paine

For the past several months, KU’s faculty union and administration have been at odds regarding the budget and financial standing of the university as a whole, one of the largest concerns being the possible need to raise student tuition. While the administration believes implementing a new fee is a possible necessity, the faculty maintains that such a move would be unnecessary.

On Feb. 8, in an email to all students and faculty, President Hawkinson released a statement, saying KU is “falling from ‘yellow—or warning’ to ‘red—moving toward failure’ in the State System’s financial risk assessment of our university,” due to budget deficits and a decrease in reserves and enrollment.

However, the KU faculty union disagrees with this view, maintaining that the university is in strong financial standing with regard to the overall statistics of the PASSHE system. Concerned faculty commissioned Dr. Howard Bunsis, an independent auditor, to conduct a second analysis and provide outside perspective as he has done for other universities, the most recent case being Rutgers University. His findings were delivered on Feb. 15 in a presentation open to faculty, staff and students.

His main points stated that tuition should not be raised and that the university is in better standing than is being let on. “Kutztown and the PASSHE system are in a solid financial condition,” said Bunsis. “The tuition is way higher than it should be.”

Due to declining enrollment and low levels of state funding, Hawkinson expressed a need for more revenue. “Rising costs have significantly outpaced modest tuition revenue growth,” he said in his Feb. 8 email. “At the same time, the need for student support services and intervention continues to rise.”

The university has proposed reducing budgets, rescinding funds and the possible introduction of a “Student Success Fee” in order to alleviate financial issues. The revenue’s allocation was not specified, but emphasis was put on the need for “student support services,” indicating that was what the money would go towards. Hawkinson also noted that students would see little to no benefit from budget cuts, hence the introduction of the fee as a possible solution.

Bunsis agreed that there should be no cuts made to core academics, specifically because there is no need for them. “If there’s anything that needs to be cut…it’s called administration,” said Bunsis.

However, administration is continuing to back the idea of implementing the “Student Success Fee.” On Feb. 27, Student Government Board held a meeting including a presentation from Assistant Vice President for Financial & Business Services Matt Delaney regarding the implementation of such a fee (News Article).

“We have every confidence that KU’s financial information, provided by our experts, is accurately presented with sound analysis, reasonable projections and proper conclusions,” Matt Santos, Vice President, University Relations and Athletics, said in an email on Feb. 28. “The president’s budget letter provides a credible account of our current financial situation, and the possible solutions to present provide a path to financial stability in the future.”

Dr. Michael Gambone, a KU history professor and member of the concerned faculty group, stressed the need for more connectivity between faculty and administration regarding the proposed ideas and changes.

“Faculty who are talking about the budget here really do want to embrace that idea, that we should be collaborating with the administration on how this budget is being formed,” Gambone said.

Meanwhile, the SGB conducted a survey to gauge student opinion and awareness. On March 8, Leah Cassellia sent out an email on behalf of SGB including a survey for all students regarding the proposed “Student Success Fee.”

This survey included the following questions: “Have you heard about the Student Success Fee? How did you hear about the ‘Student Success Fee’? From your understanding, what do you believe the proposed Student Success Fee would fund? Do you agree with the potential implementation of the Student Success Fee? What comments or concerns do you have about this proposed fee?”

There were 326 total submissions. In responding to whether or not the students knew about the “Student Success Fee,” 220 chose “No,” while 106 chose “Yes.” Of the 106 that knew about the fee, 95 chose a “No” response for the question regarding whether or not they agreed with its implementation.

SGB intends to take the results of this survey and continue the discussion with administration based on the student responses, according to Michael O’Mara, VPA representative on the Public Relations Committee.

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