The University of Montana will cut at least $1.8 million from its 2017 general fund in order to pay for new initiatives, especially ones related to enrollment and recruitment, a UM official confirmed Thursday.
But UM's revenue projections are on track for its roughly $149 million general fund budget, said UM vice president of finance Mike Reid.
"Everything is lining up, and we're looking solid," Reid said of the approved budget. "We are doing – and will continue to do – re-prioritization across the institution ... regardless of the institution's financial situation."
He said UM will not cut people in existing positions to find that $1.8 million, a figure he said is in constant flux. However, he said if employees leave UM, it may put that faculty or staff salary to new initiatives instead.
Spending on new initiatives will be in areas including enrollment, recruitment, marketing and communications, he said.
Last fall in an emergency budget forum, President Royce Engstrom announced a plan to cut faculty and staff to save money — later estimated at some $12 million. UM has lost an estimated 26 percent of its enrollment over the last six years and the decline has resulted in a budget crunch.
This past summer, UM hired a new vice president to replace a retiring one, and President Engstrom changed the focus of the job to include enrollment.
Thursday, Reid said UM must remain flexible and open to new ideas year after year, regardless of whether it has a surplus of money or is tight on funds. He said vice president of enrollment and student affairs Tom Crady wasn't on board last year, and he's bringing up new ideas for enrollment and recruitment that UM will put into play.
"He's assessing the situation. He wasn't here last year to direct that conversation," Reid said.
An estimated $1 million of the $1.8 million in new initiatives is in enrollment and recruitment, although it isn't all in Crady's budget, Reid said.
"Some departments are going to probably have reductions as we shift those resources," he said.
At a news conference this fall to discuss enrollment, Crady said the president had given him carte blanche to make campus decisions to boost enrollment. At the time, he estimated new initiatives could push up enrollment 3 percent by fall 2017.
At a Budget Committee meeting Thursday afternoon, Crady also said the programs he's putting into place are "the absolute bare minimum."
"In no way, shape or form is this what I would consider to be luxurious stuff. This is basic communications activity," Crady said.
In one case, some $600,000 that was supposed to go toward brochures didn't get transferred, he said. UM must spend money on those items, he said, but it's also trying to be thoughtful about its approach and spend less.
In response to a question from Dean Chris Comer, Crady agreed UM's low student-to-faculty ratio — at 16 to 1 — was a draw for students that recruiters should highlight.
However, UM has a goal to be at 18 to 1, and that means more students, fewer faculty, or both. Thursday after the budget meeting, Reid agreed that cutting open faculty positions would help UM reach two goals at once, pay for its new initiatives and hit its target student-to-faculty ratio.
Going forward, he said, UM will evaluate every spending item, such as employee positions, travel and training, and even membership dues in order to determine whether the dollars are better spent on recruitment, retention, marketing and communications.
"The gross budget of the institution is actually looking as good or better than projected. It's the shifting of resources," Reid said.