Zeleny outlines university’s current budget challenges

· 3 min read

Zeleny outlines university’s current budget challenges

Nebraska Today Q&A
A top 10 rise for the College of Engineering and another strong showing by the College of Business headline the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s progress in the 2023 U.S. News and World Report rankings of online master’s degree programs.

Given recent news regarding a budget shortfall for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Nebraska Today sat down with Mike Zeleny, vice chancellor for business and finance, for an overview.

The Lincoln Journal Star recently covered Chancellor Ronnie Green’s comments to the Faculty Senate, where he discussed a budget deficit facing UNL this fiscal year. Can you provide some additional context?

It’s important to start with an understanding that there are budget implications anytime UNL has declining enrollment. And I want to clarify that when we talk about enrollment, we’re addressing the totality of what makes up enrollment management — recruitment of first-time students, retention of our returning students, and the successful graduation of the previous classes. From a budget perspective, the use of tuition remission as a source of financial assistance, rather than funded scholarships, is also an important factor.

We had lower than projected enrollments in both fall 2021 and fall 2022. We were able to manage a shortfall of approximately $10.2 million last year by controlling operating expenses and using cash reserves and other funding to make up the difference. Those efforts didn’t permanently eliminate that shortage but did cover it for the last fiscal year.

That shortfall rolled over into this fiscal year and was compounded with an additional $13 million shortage due to enrollment declines again this year. So, we are currently facing an approximately $23.2 million budget deficit.

Our challenge is two-fold. How do we manage that shortage this fiscal year? And how do we address it on a permanent basis instead of allowing it to continue to roll forward?

How are we addressing this challenge?

Campus leaders have been working on this for several months and evaluating various options. For this current fiscal year, we are working to cover that shortfall by controlling operating expenses and using cash reserves to make up the difference like we did last year — and without layoffs, furloughs or program cuts.

However, we know one-time actions this year do not address the shortfall from continuing to roll forward. We are also looking at how to make adjustments to take $23 million out of our budget on an ongoing basis to address this shortfall permanently.

When will more information be available to the UNL community?

Chancellor Green made a broad level of campus leaders aware of these issues last fall and provided information to the Faculty Senate this month. As we work through options and develop initial plans to address them permanently, we are mindful of the need to work cooperatively with our existing shared governance processes and, especially, the Academic Planning Committee. We also need to engage all of the leaders on campus to effectively work through this challenge. More information will be available in the coming weeks as we collaborate with campus leaders, and work through our appropriate processes on campus.

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