February 15, 2010

Administrator Says New Budget Model Impacts Graduate Students Less

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Changes recommended by the Budget Model Task Force will largely affect undergraduate students, said Paul Streeter, associate vice president for planning and budget, in a presentation to the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly last night. By implementing these changes, which include introducing a single university-wide budget, pooling undergraduate tuitions and streamlining administrative costs, the University administration hopes to reduce the budget deficit from $68 million to $30 million by next year.

“The current model is complex and causes an awful lot of difficulties,” Streeter said. “We have to create a model that maximizes resources and maintains academic excellence in a way that is understandable, transparent and predictable for the whole campus community.”

The report also suggests that Cornell pool undergraduate tuition –– $423 million in gross tuition and $136 million in financial aid –– instead of leaving the task to individual colleges. The University would then redistribute the funds to different academic programs based on prioritization and the cost of education.

The task force advocates, however, that the individual colleges continue to collect graduate and professional tuition independently since many post-secondary students subsidize their tuition with fellowships and federal stipends. The University has less power to tax and use these funds at its discretion.

“Many grad students don’t take classes here and are just doing research, so it probably makes sense to keep money in-house,” said Nighthawk Evensen, president of the GPSA.

Because of its interdisciplinary nature, undergraduate education requires more cross-college teaching than graduate programs. This makes pooling undergraduate tuition more effective, said Streeter.

“The report is really focused on the undergrads,” Streeter said. “We think this will really enhance the undergraduate experience in the long run.”

The task force report also proposes that Cornell draw about $70 million from University-wide tuition. This would increase its annual University Support Fund to roughly $125 million. Streeter said this would provide liquidity that the Provost could spend as needed.

The task force proposed this levy, which would work like a franchise tax, after looking at other university’s budget models, Streeter said. The GPSA voiced concern about how these funds would be used.

“Graduate students won’t be giving much to this university support pool, but the graduate programs are just as eligible to benefit and that concerns me from an equity standpoint,” Evensen said.

The report recommends the University create a board that would oversee the support pool and release full records on the procurement and use of the funds, according to Streeter. Unspent money would carry over to the following year’s pool.

Other efforts will affect all of the university’s students equally. These efforts include streamlining the processes by which Cornell buys goods and services, chooses and negotiates with vendors, manages financial transactions, maintains facilities and provides I.T. support and human resources services.

“This is a multi-year effort that will take time,” Streeter said. “It’s about not just maintaining the status quo but progressing to financial equilibrium so things start to get better.”

Graduate students will not see an institutional cut in teaching assistant positions, though individual departments may choose to axe untenured jobs.

“Overall, I’m not concerned for my constituents because it seems like grad students would be getting a pretty good deal,” Evensen said.

Original Author: Dan Robbins