It’s not just Omaha – Public Education Cuts a Nationwide Epidemic

Photo: Graph courtesy of The Bismarck Herald

The University of Denver, a private institution, continues to thrive in today’s  operating environment and is preparing to welcome more than 1,400 first-year students in September. That number is slightly higher than last year. A recent fundraiser, One Day for DU, generated $413,630 for various DU programs and Chancellor Chopp has been steadily increasing the university endowment to 607 million dollars with plans to take that figure to 1 billion dollars in upcoming campaigns.

The University of Denver has found its niche as a private university in Denver and appears to be thriving.

But this is a dark time for many state universities that are cutting budgets to avoid massive deficits. Even Power Five schools are struggling and in some cases, the universities are raiding college athletic football revenue for their general funds. World class universities like Cal-Berkeley are facing huge cuts. Illinois is unable to fund their university system and even the sacred institution of football is imperiled at LSU, according to the state’s governor. Pennsylvania is in dire straits with revenue drying up and enrollment falling. Declining enrollments, duplication, tenure, administrative costs, and declining state revenues cannot keep pace with the cost of operations.

North Dakota has a whopping 15 public universities to serve a total of just 756,000 state residents (but when has North Dakota ever gotten anything right?).

The Dakota universities are also facing massive budget cuts of over 32 million dollars in expenses over the next two years and it will impact their funding for athletics. According to The Bismarck Tribune, every sport is losing money, even hockey for UND and football for NDSU, both high profile programs in the state of North Dakota. All athletic departments and programs will see cuts.

According to the article, “Both programs ran significant deficits, according to the annual financial report each school is required to send to the NCAA. NDSU football had revenues of $4.5 million and expenses of $4.7 million, coming up about $201,000 short. UND men’s hockey had total operating revenue of $4.3 million and expenses totaling $4.5 million, a loss of about $163,000.” Overall, according to the NCAA reports, UND’s athletics department lost $1.4 million in 2016 – not a huge amount considering that only 10-12 athletic departments make money. UND recently dropped women’s hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving to address their shortfall.

These North Dakota universities losses are well below the losses incurred by University of Nebraska Omaha, though, which saw a whopping deficit of $8.6 million just last year.

It gets worse, however. The North Dakota Legislature accepted a state revenue forecast which painted an even grimmer fiscal picture, projecting a $46 million shortfall for 2015-17 funding. So, barring a miracle, the cuts will likely continue into the future.

A private study conducted by DU several years ago predicted this same trend. Furthermore, DU will not be immune to these issues as ‘the ability to pay’ for a private education drops and the pool of qualified students remains static or shrinks. This explains the current need to increase the university endowment to help shield the university from inevitable economic swings. That, too, explains DU’s push for the DU Impact 2025 Strategic Plan as the university works to become more visible in the community, the region, and the nation as a key player in higher education.

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