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Faculty voice concern over decentralized budget model

Department officials fear competition from decentralized budget could disrupt education.

Despite optimism from the central administration, professors and academic faculty are concerned that the university’s new budgeting model could signal trouble for schools and colleges by upping the stakes with enrollment numbers.

Starting July 1, the university’s budgeting model will reverse itself, putting more financial control in colleges’ hands and taking some major budgeting decisions away from central administration. Under the old budgeting model, tuition dollars and cash flow went largely to Temple’s central administration, which would then allocate funds to the university’s schools.

Under the new decentralized model, the direction of cash flow is largely reversed, with schools seeing tuition dollars first and choosing which of their individual programs to allocate to.

It’s a system that administrators have said will encourage entrepreneurship and innovation among programs. By directly tying tuition dollars to schools’ budgets, the university’s schools are more accountable for their enrollment numbers. Declines in enrollment mean direct hits to budgeting numbers, and increases mean more tuition dollars directly flow to schools’ administrators to dole out.

But there’s concern that this heightened focus on enrollment — and with it, tuition dollars — could inspire shifts in colleges’ curriculums, with each of the university’s 17 schools competing for student interest, and each of their programs of study competing internally for school dollars.

Although budgeting allotments were always loosely tied to enrollment numbers and growth projections, the new decentralized model puts an added pressure on programs by directly tying annual budgets to tuition, upping the stakes when it comes to student enrollment.

That added pressure isn’t just felt at a college level. With the more direct decision making process that comes with the new budgeting model, schools themselves will determine the funding allotted to their specific courses of study. Programs with higher enrollments and potential for growth will see more funding, which could be tough news for smaller departments with lower enrollment rates.

“We’re going to be more responsible for the health of tuition revenue,” said Kevin Glass, Assistant Dean of Finance for the College of Liberal Arts on enrollment numbers. “So if we have a productive department…it’s not a done deal, but it’s more likely that we fund their departments because the enrollment growth is stronger.”

It’s a hard fact to swallow for some of the university’s smaller courses of study, many of which are being faced with the reality of low enrollment numbers and smaller budgets.

As colleges adjust to the new model, there is concern that these low numbers could lead some programs to resort to new means in attempts to draw student interest.

“[The new budgeting model] is necessitating us to make sure that our curriculum is reviewed periodically, our majors are attractive [and] our classes are attractive,” Glass said.

But that theory concerns Richard Joslyn, a political science professor and member of the College of Liberal Arts Budget Priorities Committee, an advisory body that provides funding advice to the dean. Joslyn said there are worries among the university’s faculty that traditional academic values could be undermined by the need for numbers.

“To me, it’s a double-edged sword. People could care more about quality of teaching and they could refresh their curricula…that would be the good thing,” Joslyn said. “The bad thing is doing things to grab credit hours and money that might not be so worthwhile. Like, we could create a major in the study of pornography and probably have a huge increase in enrollment. Is that the right thing to do?”

Temple’s Chief Financial Officer Ken Kaiser said the dilution of academics couldn’t happen under the new plan, with courses of study and curriculums still being held accountable to central administration. Dumbing down courses to encourage enrollment, he said, is a short term solution.

“That might work for one semester, but its not going to do the students any good, it’s not going to do Temple any good,” Kaiser said.

But Joslyn said the effects of the decentralized model have already made their way in to colleges’ discussions on new programs. A heightened awareness of enrollment numbers makes more strenuous requirements difficult to justify, he said, with many colleges concerned that traditional academia won’t draw as much student interest — or tuition dollars.

“You’d like that discussion to take place without the financial implications hanging over your head, but that’s going to be difficult,” Joslyn said.

One factor in those discussions has been the university’s general education program, required for every one of Temple’s undergraduates and largely based in courses offered through the College of Liberal Arts.

With schools now fiercely competing against each other for students’ interest, requiring students to study outside of their own college or major means budget hits. It’s a heavy concern for Joslyn’s College of Liberal Arts, which offers the majority of the university’s GenEd courses, and attributes a hefty portion of its budget to the credit hours.

“We generate, by far, the most credit hours by teaching other college’s students in our courses,” Joslyn said. “If that declines for any reason, we will be hurt financially tremendously.”

There has already been interest from some of the university’s schools in offering General Education courses that they never before were interested in offering, Joslyn said.

“When the other colleges see how much of the tuition revenue their students are paying ends up getting transferred to CLA because we’re teaching them, there will be temptation to figure out a way to pull them back in to their own colleges,” Joslyn said.

Despite concerns, schools and colleges will be forced to reckon with the new model in less than two months. As for the administration’s notion that the new system is an overarching positive change for schools and colleges, Joslyn is skeptical.

“That is something that you hear,” he said. “To me, that’s just rhetoric so far. I want to see the actions that back up the rhetoric.”

Ali Watkins can be reached at ali.watkins@temple.edu or on Twitter @AliMarieWatkins. 

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