Mason ‘Well Positioned’ Moving Into Next Budget Year, Administrators Say

Posted: March 10, 2011 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: March 9, 2011 at 9:32 pm

By Robin Herron

While Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell won’t sign the legislation that will seal the next state budget until early April, Mason administrators have a pretty good idea of where the university stands going into fiscal year 2012, and the news isn’t all bad.

At a budget forum on March 9, Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens and Provost Peter Stearns gave an update on the General Assembly’s latest actions that affect the university.

Scherrens prefaced his remarks by noting that “bridge planning” – shifting money saved from one fiscal year to the next – has left Mason “about as well positioned as we possibly could be.”

The bad news is that there are no across-the-board raises or bonuses for faculty and staff members in FY 2012, which begins July 1.

Employees in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) hired before July 1, 2010, will receive a 5 percent salary increase; at the same time, they will begin contributing 5 percent of their new salaries (pretax) to the retirement plan.

In those cases, there will be a small net reduction in take-home pay, Scherrens explained. He presented several examples showing how this change will affect salaries, with reductions ranging from $8 per pay period for a person earning $40,000 to $14 per pay period for a person earning $70,000.

Employees participating in the Optional Retirement Plan (ORP) will see no changes to the ORP contribution; the employer rate remains at 10.4 percent.

Also on the benefit side, the optional Cash Match program returns to a maximum contribution level of $20 per pay period in 2012.

The good news from the legislative session is:

  • The state is returning the university’s interest on tuition.
  • Mason will receive money to increase enrollment and hire faculty in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math, as well as health). Stearns said this enables the university to hire more than 10 faculty members.
  • As part of a group of four universities working with Cisco Systems Inc., Mason will receive money and equipment related to technology.
  • The state is providing Mason with $2.87 million to operate its new buildings.
  • Mason will receive $1.13 million to maintain a moderate enrollment growth plan.
  • The university will receive $2.24 million for in-state undergraduate financial aid.
  • Transportation funding includes $10 million for the West Campus Connector project (an overpass linking the east and west sides of the Fairfax Campus).

In other positive actions, Scherrens reported that the legislature has recognized the importance of a cost of living salary adjustment for the faculty and has directed the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to provide any necessary recommendations by Sept. 1, 2011.

To assist in this effort, Mason is developing a suggested peer group of universities more reflective of the high cost of living in Northern Virginia.. Peer group lists are used by SCHEV to benchmark faculty salaries. Although the administrators don’t expect this to have an immediate effect, “It is a victory in principle,” Stearns said, and will put Mason in a better position when raises are reinstated.

Scherrens recognized the Faculty Senate and its leadership for their steadfast assistance with executive and legislative officials in Richmond on this important compensation issue.

Because of these latest budget numbers, administrators expect that tuition increases for the fall semester can be held to about 8 percent for in-state students (6 percent out-of-state).

The university was disappointed that no planning or construction funds for the health sciences building at Fairfax or the life sciences building at Prince William were approved. However, Scherrens noted that the legislature did not approve capital funding for any agency.

Other setbacks included no operating support for the Hylton Performing Arts Center, a loss of maintenance reserve funding, and an additional $1 million cut in the university’s general fund.

Scherrens and Stearns will hold another update after the budget is finalized in late April. In the meantime, budget questions can be e-mailed to or

Slides presented during the budget forum are posted on the Office of Budget and Planning website.

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