LA&S enrollment, budget diverge

By Markos Moulitsas

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has had to face growing enrollment while simultaneously being forced to deal with a shrinking budget over the last few years.

Despite a general downturn in enrollment at NIU within the last five years, LA&S has seen its numbers of student majors increasing. Further complicating the equation, LA&S has been forced to take in these students while at the same time dealing with budgetary cuts.

In data compiled by NIU Institutional Research, NIU had 24,052 students with declared majors in the fall of 1992, down from 24,255 in the fall of 1988. During the same time period LA&S saw an increase of 470 majors. Not until fall of 1992 did LA&S’s steady growth stop.

“The college has been growing. It has been true since the fall of 1992 that we were running counter to the university trend of loss of students,” said Sue Doederlein, assistant dean of LA&S for Student Affairs. “That decline shows paradoxically that we have the largest percentage of majors from any of the colleges.”

With 8,466 declared majors, LA&S is the largest college at NIU. The College of Business is next in line with 5,172 majors.

Although most colleges and departments complain they don’t have the money to adequately perform their jobs, LA&S has to contend with increased demand for its programs while pressure is applied to reduce its budget.

In the last five years there has been more than a 60 percent increase in the amount of psychology majors, and about 30 percent increases in both the foreign language and sociology departments.

“There’s nothing put in place to track students. There are more students pursuing double majors, which require more resources,” said Joseph Grush, assistant dean of LA&S.

Tracking of students at NIU would show the College of Business has experienced a decline of students in the last few years. LA&S is concerned the freeing up of resources that should result from the College of Business’ enrollment decline is not happening.

Grush said, “We would like to believe that if business enrollment declines, then funds should be moved to where they are needed.”

David Graf, acting dean of the College of Business, disagrees with LA&S’s figures, which were taken from NIU Institutional Research.

“The data they are looking at is faulty,” he said. “One of the things the state requires is that the number of majors be reported at a certain date. That date misses a couple of hundred who are applying for admittance to the school.”

As an example he cited Institutional Research’s number of accounting majors last fall at 248, yet he said 220 graduated, which would be highly improbable if there were so few majors.

Regardless of the numbers, the university has insisted on across-the-board cuts to meet a shrinking budget. These cuts affected each department at the university equally, without taking account of the individual needs of each college or department.

“This pattern of across-the-board cuts hurts us tremendously. We had argued that this was not fair,” Doederlein said. “For a long time this was not a heated argument, and we still don’t believe it’s as heated as it should be.”

Several factors have come into play to put LA&S in its current situation.

In the past LA&S was allowed a “deficit approved system” which allowed it to incur up to $700,000 in debt over what it had been budgeted for. With the increased belt-tightening at NIU that system was scrapped. Also compounding the problem was the lack of new state funding and policies forcing colleges to reallocate their own money for things like faculty raises, Grush said.

The situation looked so bad for LA&S, it decided 1,200 students would have to be turned away to meet the target budget when faced with new cuts in resources (liquidation of all debt and a three percent tax). In light of the cuts, the administration shifted funds over to LA&S.

“President (John) La Tourette saw data from our internal review and gave us a $300,000 yearly award from the president’s office,” Grush said. He also mentioned receiving a one-time $200,000 stipend from the provost’s office. “It was a large action on their part, but in the context of cutting $1.2 million, it didn’t do the job.”

Further relieving pressure on LA&S was the decision to change the formula for allocating summer school funds. Historically, funds were allocated by department, without regard to courses that would be taught.

“We had a system where every college got the same amount of money without regard for the colleges that required new demand,” Grush said.

Starting last summer semester the university switched to “an enrollment-driven reallocation scheme,” Grush said.

This system required the colleges to come up with a priority list and present it to the provost.

“We got half the money (they normally would have received) and the rest was a bidding war. I don’t know who lost, but we got more money than if we hadn’t switched systems,” Grush said.

Don Davidson, assistant provost for academic planning, was not very sympathetic to LA&S. Admitting that all of the departments could use more money as it was, he said, “If you look at the percent of appropriated funds budget that LA&S has been allocated in our division, you’ll see it has not varied.”

He said LA&S budget was between 37 and 38 percent of the academic budget.