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Facing Millions in State Cuts, Colleges Look for Silver Lining

On a deadline set by President Michael McRobbie this week, administrators at all nine Indiana University campuses will have to find a total of nearly $60 million in budget cuts in a month or less. Although IU is being asked to cut the most dollars, all other state schools are also facing similar six percent reductions.

But at least one state education official sees a silver lining in the process.

With tuition rates already set for this academic year and next, state university officials are focusing on budget reductions instead of revenue increases.  Higher Education Commissioner Theresa Lubbers says the schools saw Governor Mitch Daniels’ six percent cut coming and have been working on contingency plans for some time.

She says, in a way, they should feel fortunate Daniels’ ax wasn’t as sharp as other that of other governors’.

“There have been much more dramatic, draconian cuts at an earlier time period in many of our neighboring and states around the country,” she said.

IU will lose $60 million, Purdue University $45 million and Indiana State University $10 million. The General Assembly actually cut funding to higher education by four percent earlier this summer, but claimed a neutral budget after filling the gap with stimulus dollars.

But Lubbers says she think it’s possible for Indiana’s schools to preserve academic quality – despite working with 10 percent fewer state dollars than in 2008.

“The issues of efficiency I’m not sure have always been front and center in the delivery of higher education.  We’ve not, in recent years, I don’t think those kinds of conversations have taken place like we needed to. I don’t think anything is off the table. It may not be where, IU, Purdue or any place else wanted to be at this point, but it is where we are,” Lubbers said.

IU Spokesman Larry McIntyre says although the state’s schools would prefer not to compromise any part of their operations, IU administrators are trying to remain positive in the face of President’s McRobbie directive.

“He wants campus administrators to see this as an opportunity to look for ways to improve efficiency to reduce overhead costs that don’t directly contribute to the academic mission,” McIntyre said.

Still, McIntyre insists the next month won’t be easy.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “[McRobbie] is not insisting on a one-size-fits-all or an across the board solution.”

Each school’s trustees will make final decisions on how to cut budgets. McIntyre says there’s currently no talk of tuition increases at IU to eliminate the shortfall.

He also says Governor Daniels told McRobbie and other presidents higher education should be safe from further reductions…for now.

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