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UNG is preparing for a $5 million loss in state funding. Here’s what that could mean

The University of North Georgia is bracing for a $5 million loss in state funding next year due to a decline in student enrollment, which means vacancies would be left unfilled and faculty would likely be laid off. 

“We’re not looking at tenure-track faculty,” Provost Chaudron Gille said in an interview Tuesday. “I don't envision having to go to that. But probably some that are in these one-term positions, where in the past we might have been able to engage them another year, that may not be the case this time.” 

UNG’s total budget for fiscal year 2022 is about $275 million, and academic affairs accounts for about two-thirds. The budget cuts would affect next year’s budget, beginning July 2023. 

UNG has 719 faculty members, and university spokeswoman Slyvia Carson said they are considering cutting 20-25 positions, though that includes leaving vacancies unfilled. UNG has about 150 vacancies across its five campuses. 

“Our priority is to absolutely minimize reduction in employees, both faculty and staff,” said Mac McConnell, UNG’s chief financial officer. “Our hope is that we will achieve this $5 million dollar reduction through maybe not filling vacancies and limiting the amount of new positions we add, efficiencies that we can gain.” 

One of those “efficiencies” is a 50% reduction of the travel budget, according to the minutes from a June 16 meeting with the Provost Gille and other administration higher-ups. That also means declining to renew some of the university’s software contracts, which is a “pretty major expense,” Gille told The Times. 

McConnell and Gille stressed, however, that the $5 million in cuts — about $3.6 million for academic affairs — are preliminary estimates based on current enrollment. If enrollment happens to go up between now and the beginning of the next budget cycle in July 2023, the decline in state funding will be less drastic. 

“It'll depend on what our enrollment is like this coming year,” Gille said. “I don't know at this point whether or not we'll have to implement this cut. We're in the planning phases.” 

But because faculty are generally given 9 months notice before being laid off, the administration only has a few months to decide who they’re going to let go. That is what they are doing now: coming up with a list, which will be sent to the University System of Georgia July 1. 

UNG has seen a 3.8% drop in enrollment this year and about 7% since spring 2020. Most Georgia universities have seen declines, and the trend holds nationwide. Undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. is down 4.7% since the spring of last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Colleges have lost 1.4 million undergrads since the onset of the pandemic. 

In an email to faculty Tuesday, Gille said, “In my 28 years with the institution, this is the first time we have had a reduction in our (funding) formula due to a decrease in enrollment.” 

That reduction is on top of the 10% cut in state spending implemented by Kemp in 2020. And while coronavirus relief money softened the blow, Kemp’s cut was not restored in his budget this year. 

Despite these seemingly grim assessments, though, officials see a bright future for UNG. 

“The outlook for University of North Georgia is very strong,” McConnell said. “These are budget reductions that happen over time for all sorts of reasons. It’s the first time related to declining credit hours (i.e., declining enrollment). We will remedy that in the next year or two. And I think our outlook, our enrollment projections, are very solid. So UNG is on strong financial footing and will continue to service this region for the next 150 years.” 

This story was originally published in the Gainesville Times, a sister publication of the Dawson County News.