Administrators Hold Budget Forum

Posted: April 3, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Cautioning the attendees at Monday’s Budget Forum that “things could change in the next few weeks,” Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens, along with Provost Peter Stearns, outlined Mason’s current budget status and plans for the future.

One reason that things could change is that Virginia’s General Assembly has yet to finalize a bond package to pay for construction projects at colleges and state parks. The bond session is due to wrap up April 23. Mason, which has a long list of capital funding needs, is anxious to see that portion of the budget resolved.

April 23 is also the day that the General Assembly will consider Gov. Timothy Kaine’s vetoes and amendments to bills passed during the session concluded on March 13.

One of the issues related to the budget concerns tuition. The General Assembly wants public colleges and universities to hold tuition increases to no more than 4 percent (with 1 percent going to financial aid). It’s a nonbinding request, but the institutions that stick to that limit can share an additional funding incentive from the state.

Unfortunately, Mason’s budget model prepared last fall factored in a 10 percent tuition increase (again, with 1 percent going to financial aid). Mason administrators are hoping a compromise of an overall 7 percent increase will be more acceptable, and still allow the institutions to retain their tuition incentive funding.

“In approving the FY2009 operating budget, we will be asking George Mason’s Board of Visitors to make a decision on tuition as a part of that approval,” said Scherrens. The Board of Visitors will set tuition for 2008-09 at its meeting in May.

Salaries of faculty and staff are another area of concern. The General Assembly included a 2 percent pay raise in its budget, but Mason is still pushing for a cost of living adjustment for all employees as well as a boost to get faculty salaries closer to the 60th percentile of its new institutional peer group. Faculty salaries are currently at the 38th percentile of its peer group, the lowest of any major Virginia university.

In the area of student enrollment, Mason’s plans through FY2013 call for “modest to moderate” enrollment growth of 1 to 2 percent per year.

In response to a question about why Mason is constructing so many buildings if enrollment will not grow much over the next few years, Scherrens and Stearns explained that the university is trying to catch up to space needs left unmet in previous years; accommodate a larger resident population; add space to enhance research efforts; and engage in public-private partnerships such as the Prince William Community Performing Arts Center.

An outline of the budget forum presentation is posted on the Office of Budget and Planning web site.

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