Chancellor: University must grow to avoid financial 'cliff'

By Staff

Faced with the potential for a steeper than expected financial "cliff effect," University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak last week told a standing-room-only crowd at the University Center Theater that enrolling and retaining students is vital to the university's ability to withstand its current financial crisis.

Shockley-Zalabak pointed to a 6.7 percent increase in student credit hours this fall as an example of the kind of efforts that will help UCCS avoid a looming financial crisis created by the withdrawal of federal stimulus funds following the 2010-11 fiscal year. Each faculty and staff member can assist the university in achieving student enrollment and retention goals, she said.

"I'm talking about a university with high standards but with high scaffolds that help people get where they need to be," Shockley-Zalabak said.

In a series of charts and graphs updated from a September presentation, Shockley-Zalabak outlined worsening state fiscal conditions, including UCCS' share of a federal stimulus shortfall estimated at $1.5 million for 2010-11.

"Stimulus funds are not going to be enough," Shockley-Zalabak said. "Earlier, I said we were working on a 20-month timeline. I think it's now closer to six (months)."

Shockley-Zalabak outlined plans by Gov. Bill Ritter that include freezing state employee salaries and requiring state employees to make an additional 2.5 percent contribution to their Public Employees Retirement Association accounts. She emphasized the Dec. 18 state revenue forecast as pivotal to future funding decisions.

State funding for UCCS may decline from a high of $22.9 million in 2008 to perhaps $10 million at the end of 2011.

Unemployment remains high and, as a result, sales and income tax collections — primary sources of income for state government — are down. As a result, UCCS must increase revenues by an estimated $12 million, Shockley-Zalabak said, by increasing enrollment, improving efficiency and effectiveness, and generating revenues from sources such as conferences and extended studies.

"We do have choices," Shockley-Zalabak said. "They are not easy choices and in many cases they are not obvious choices. But, nevertheless, they are choices."

Additional forums are planned through the spring semester as new information about the university's state-supported budget becomes available.