Dr. Beth Lofquist speaks out about the state budget

Dr. Beth Tyson Lofquist, interim provost until August, spoke exclusively to The Western Carolinian about her thoughts and speculations about the upcoming state budget.

Currently, decisions have been delayed for Western Carolina University and the rest of the UNC-System schools because the state budget has yet to come through.

Governor Beverly Perdue recently vetoed the state budget that had been created. However, the veto and Purdue’s budget plan were voted out by the N.C. General Assembly on Monday, July 2. Despite Perdue’s objections, the 2012 budget will provide public education with over $250 with a pay increase for teachers, according to WRAL. Still, WCU and the other schools will have to wait until they see their specific monetary allocations for the school year.

Within the next month, Lofquist believes Western Carolina will see the funds it will receive. In the meantime, Lofquist, Chancellor David O. Belcher and the rest of the Office of the Provost will rely on their already made plans for three different scenarios.

Lofquist explained the hard work has already been completed and that three plans exist in preparation for the budget.

“We go ahead and make plans for high, medium and low outcomes,” said Lofquist. “We have the plan if it comes through. We know what we’re going to spend the money on if we get the money.”

This year’s budget planning centered heavily around data in terms of enrollment in specific academic programs and focusing on quality indicators, said Lofquist. She explained that it was “a sign of the times.”

“When you have less, it forces you to make better decisions,” Lofquist said. “We’re no longer spoiled. We’re being very strategic on how we spend our money.”

Lofquist said that budget preparation wrapped up last year after much deliberation because quick decisions may not be wise decisions. By planning ahead and taking the time to look at the data for different programs, the Office of the Provost is prepared for however much funding comes from the state.

Western Carolina University receives two types of funding: tuition fees and growth.  Lofquist speculated but could not be sure that the university will not be completely funded for growth this year. However, she feels confident that the tuition funding will come through. Because of this, Lofquist hopes that the budget will fall between the worst and best case scenarios that have been planned.

Right now, Lofquist does not feel concerned about cut facility hours or cut staff positions.

“I don’t suspect that,” she said. “I’m not hearing any of that.”

Lofquist and her team always look at what they can do to save jobs before they start letting valued employees go. Current vacant positions are looked at to see if the money to hire someone for that position would be better spent on saving a job that could be cut. The interim provost said the number one concern is preserving “the academic core,” and this includes saving the faculty and staff members already in place at Western Carolina.

“These are hard decisions,” said Lofquist, “and sometimes, it’s making a decision between fruits and vegetables. They’re both good for you.”

In all of the scenario plans, funding is saved in case of a reversion. A reversion happens when, for example, the state does not have money for payroll and needs funds fast. In this case, all state agencies must return one to two percent of their budget to the state. A reversion can also occur during a state emergency or crisis, such as a hurricane. Should Western Carolina ever have to pay money to the state, staff who help with the budget make sure that money is tucked away for such occasions.

Unfortunately, the recent budget crisis has been difficult on students. Lofquist described it as the pressures are “put on the backs of students as state funding is less.” While tuition rises in order to accommodate shortcomings in the state budget, Lofquist promised that Western Carolina is a good value for students.

“Ours still makes us one of the least expensive in the state …  and our peer institutions,” said Lofquist on tuition. “Some of it goes back to students … at least in terms of financial aid.”

While the concrete numbers are not in yet, hopes are high about this year’s financial situation.

“It looks like it’s going to be a little bit better this year,” said Lofquist with a smile.

As Western Carolina moves forward with the upcoming budget, Lofquist promises that they will start to build back what was lost, though not exactly as it was before but “… back to where it needs to be,” said Lofquist.