Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

STATE BUDGET SNAFU ; Higher Ed in Fiscal Limbo; Universities, Colleges Nearing Deadlines Left to Wonder If Funding Will Be Cut in Budget Fix

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

STATE BUDGET SNAFU ; Higher Ed in Fiscal Limbo; Universities, Colleges Nearing Deadlines Left to Wonder If Funding Will Be Cut in Budget Fix

Article excerpt

West Virginia's public universities and colleges must submit institutional budgets for approval by the end of June, but the lack of a state budget has left many higher education leaders guessing how much money will be available next year. "We've tightened up on a lot of things, said Mary Ellen Heuton, Marshall University's chief financial officer.

Universities are now in the midst of budgeting season, balancing accounts so boards of governors can determine if cuts are needed or if student tuition needs to be raised to cover any shortfalls.

By this time in the year, universities have a general idea of how much they'll receive from the state in appropriations. However, hanging over the institutional process now is a state budget impasse, which is the result of the Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin not being able to agree on how to close a gaping $238.8 million funding shortfall.

Despite having an extended session to pass a budget bill, the Legislature decided to wait until later this spring to tackle the state's funding woes.

Meanwhile, universities are left wondering.

"We're guessing there will be a decrease [in funding], Heuton said.

Marshall, and all other public colleges and universities in West Virginia, already were served with a 4 percent budget cut this fiscal year.

"We're still working through it, Heuton said, adding that she and other budget officers assume that's money they'll never see again.

While universities often use the governor's proposed budget to calculate expenditures for the following year, working with those estimates now could leave them off the mark if more cuts are ordered.

That's why Marshall is budgeting conservatively, Heuton said.

Still, tuition hikes could come.

Uncertainty has education leaders concerned.

"We are hopeful that the Legislature can come together quickly to adopt a balanced budget and provide much-needed clarity for public higher education students in West Virginia, said Jessica Tice, vice chancellor for communications and public affairs for the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

Beyond creating uncertainty for financial officers, Tice said the impasse is affecting students and their families, who are making college decisions now with future price tags that may increase dramatically if higher education is asked to bear the brunt of even more cuts, or, worst-case-scenario, the Legislature fails to pass a spending plan by the end of the fiscal year in June. …

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