Health Sciences Campus

Ballard: ECU will survive tough times

In his State of the University message, Chancellor Steve Ballard said ECU will maintain focus despite a difficult fiscal outlook. ECU News photo by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.  (Feb. 2, 2011)  —  College and division cuts of 9 to 12 percent along with tuition hikes may be necessary to make up state budget shortfalls, East Carolina University Chancellor Steve Ballard said Wednesday.

Those steps could mean fewer and larger classes for students as well as increased teaching loads for faculty, Ballard said.

In his second-annual State of the University address, Ballard praised ECU’s accomplishments while warning that the next budget year will be the most daunting faced in 60 years. The state budget is expected to have a $3.7 billion gap — a 20 percent shortfall — for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Ballard cautioned that state lawmakers are not expected to approve the 2011-2012 budget for several months. But if public universities are asked to cut 20 percent, he said, ECU will lose $60 million — on top of $106 million that’s vanished from its budget in recent years.

“One can certainly hear estimates ranging from 8 percent to 20 percent, depending on assumptions about sales taxes and economic performance in the state,” Ballard said. “While I ask everyone to pray for 8 percent, as a chancellor I must plan for 20 percent.”

For students, the cuts are likely to mean higher tuition and fees. Under the scenario Ballard outlined, students could fund at least 20 percent — or $12 million — of the $60 million gap. Such hikes would come on top of substantial increases approved in previous years by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

“We have always prided ourselves in being an access institution and our first university priority is student success, so making higher education less affordable is a painful option for me,” Ballard said. “I would not propose it if I did not consider it necessary to protect the quality of their academic experiences.”

Even with tuition increases, ECU will remain either second- or third-most affordable among peer universities, Ballard said.

Faculty and staff could be affected by 9 percent to 12 percent cuts to colleges and divisions throughout the university. Ballard said those reductions would generate $30 million in savings, or half ECU’s $60 million target.

“While I hope that we can keep the overall size of our faculty close to what it is today, many schools and colleges will have no choice other than to use faculty openings and academic resources to reach their goal,” Ballard said. “The availability of classes will be reduced, while class size and teaching loads, on average, will increase.”

Ballard said ECU could use as much as $15 million from its emergency fund to avoid further cuts as well as look for ways to consolidate services to further fill the gap. The university has used its emergency fund to pay for clean-up from disasters such as Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and other unforeseen expenses.

ECU has already done its best to cut costs, Ballard said, citing UNC system data that indicate the university is one of two state campuses in which the rate of administrative growth has been less than the rate of student population growth.

Ballard said he’s asked Marianna Walker, chair of the Faculty Senate, to work with its Educational Policy and Planning Committee to recommend ways to consolidate academic units and reduce administrative costs.

Such cuts would make the fiscal year that starts in July the fourth that state universities have lost money. Last year, the UNC system accounted for 20 percent of cuts, though it represented 13 percent of the state’s budget, Ballard said.

Much of the cuts have come from administrative positions and functions. Two years ago, 92 percent of ECU’s cut to its budget base came from those areas, Ballard said.

He pointed out that a majority of states have experienced worse cuts than North Carolina. California, for instance, has a $20 billion gap while Illinois faces a $25 billion shortfall. University of California system tuition has tripled since 2002.

ECU will focus on the long-term and be strategic as it deals with cuts, Ballard said.

“We will define where we want to be at the end of this recession and stay focused,” he said. “We won’t eat our seed corn. We will protect our fundamental commitments as a public university.”

ECU is a “vital part of the solution” to the state’s problems, Ballard said.

“ECU is about the promise of opportunity — giving students access to an excellent university and a chance to realize their dreams,” Ballard said.

Ballard highlighted several of the university’s accomplishments in job creation, including:
  • The engineering program, which began in 2004 and was accredited in 2009, attracts more applicants with higher academic credentials each year. Half of its students are from eastern North Carolina and more than 90 percent of graduates have found jobs in the field or have enrolled in a graduate program.
  • More than 90 percent of hospitality management majors are employed upon graduation, despite a severe recession in the industry. 
  • More new N.C. teachers come from ECU than any other institution.
  • All nurse anesthesia, occupational therapy and physical therapy graduates are employed after graduation.

ECU also is improving the health of eastern N.C. residents, Ballard said. He cited, among other things, the Brody School of Medicine’s No. 2 national ranking in producing primary-care doctors and its rank of seventh nationally in meeting its overall social mission.

ECU knows how to survive tough times, he said.

“On the other side of this great recession, we will not only be here, we will be proud of the difference we make,” Ballard said. “And we will never lose sight of the opportunities we provide.”

The university has to preserve its academic core, said the vice president of the Student Government Association, who listened to Ballard’s message.

“If the choice is between cutting away things that make the academic core strong or raising tuition, then it probably would be necessary to raise tuition,” said Josh Martinkovic, a senior. “During hard times, you have to do the best you can with what you have.”

Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said Ballard delivered his message with honesty and confidence.

“He expressed great resolve and optimism about our future as a university,” Cunningham said.
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Here is a link to the text of Chancellor Ballard's speech.

Contact: Mary Schulken | 252-328-6482