First, as I noted in my March 3rd letter to the campus, both House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 proposed severe budget reductions for ASU. These reductions were intensified because of our historic reliance on Special Items, which were to be reduced by 25 percent. Funding was also eliminated for Texas Grants for new incoming students. Additionally, federal stimulus funds, which we used to expand our nursing programs, were not replaced. The total loss for ASU was estimated to be $6-8 million for the two year budget cycle. We now know that the final reduction to ASU is $7,088,248, a decrease of 10.1 percent for the biennium. Although our state representatives were successful in replacing one-time funding for our nursing program, there still are no Texas Grants for incoming students and our overall loss in Special Items remains at 25 percent.
At the May 12 meeting of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents, we reported plans to eliminate 22 to 28 positions, depending on the final reductions from the state. Since these positions were vacant, no personnel lay-offs were necessary. However, these positions will not return. To put this in perspective, Texas Tech University’s plans were in the range of 187 to 243 positions, with the Texas Tech Health Sciences Centers planning between 436 and 508 positions. At that Board meeting, we also sought permission to combine two colleges – the College of Liberal and Fine Arts and the College of Sciences – into the new College of Arts and Sciences. Eight academic departments were also recommended to be combined into four. This restructuring will be completed during the summer.
Second, as I have always indicated, ASU must continue to increase its student population in order to offset continued reductions in state financial support and to achieve financial stability. Our state funding continues to drop as a percentage of our overall budget and now represents only 50 percent. Enrollment growth with quality students is what will allow us to weather these disruptions now and into the future. Due to your hard work, we are already beginning to see positive changes. Our new applications continue at record levels, with higher ACT scores for accepted students. Graduate enrollments continue to be the fastest growing among all public institutions in Texas. Retention rates for continuing students also are moving upward. All indications are that we will be at or above the 7,000 mark in August.
Third, we must continue to identify and allocate our resources against those areas which promise growth in enrollment. This process goes beyond the academic area to include scholarships to ensure that our quality education remains affordable and accessible. Our challenge remains how best to position ASU in those market areas where there is significant growth in college-bound students. Our immediate attention is the 200-mile radius around San Angelo where the majority of our students have historically resided. As we build a solid recruiting foundation in these towns and cities, we will continue to expand our efforts in the I-35 corridor. We also expect to see a significant boost in enrollment as our new on-line programs in security and border studies start this fall.
Finally, we must understand that higher education in general, but specifically in Texas, is undergoing significant change. Topics such as faculty productivity, how to measure student achievement and the role of distance education are just some of these emerging issues. Of overarching importance, though, is the sense that higher education needs to be more agile in order to match a change in the expectations of new students, their families and employers. We must continue to ask: what is the appropriate mix of academic programs, student services and co-curricular activities needed to achieve and maintain that 10,000 student goal in that emerging environment?
Again thank you for working through an uncertain past few months and what promises to be a challenging summer and fall. As I note regularly, ASU really exists because of its people and you should be proud of what you have accomplished and what you represent.
Joseph C. Rallo