ARLINGTON -- While the University of Texas at Arlington appears lucky to have maintained $5 million for its nursing programs, it stands to lose $10.2 million in state funding over the next two years.
The funding picture for UT Arlington and other universities is not as bad as expected. But the proposed state spending plan presents challenges as those institutions try to find ways to cope with enrollment growth amid lower budgets, officials said.
Lawmakers have recommended $21.7 billion to be allocated for Texas higher education in the next two years, but, as they continue working on the budget in the special session called by Gov. Rick Perry, some totals may be adjusted.
"In the long run, we will have fewer state funds than we did in the current biennium," said Jean Bush, senior associate vice president for finance at the University of North Texas.
"We are focusing on the best way to provide for our students the best education."
House Bill 1, which was sent to Perry, recommends that UTA receive $89.4 million in both 2012 and 2013. That total is higher than what was proposed in the original bill, which called for $78.5 million in 2012 and $78.6 million in 2013.
"The budget bill passed is not final until it is signed by the governor or it is allowed to take effect," said Kristin Sullivan, spokeswoman for UTA.
"UT Arlington appreciates that reductions in state funding outlined in the final budget bill were less severe than reductions outlined in the initial budget bills."
At the University of North Texas, the cuts were also not as severe as expected. UNT's recommended general revenue funding is listed at $95.9 million in 2012 and $95.3 million in 2013, according to the conference committee report available on the Legislative Budget Board's website.
Officials at both campuses are still analyzing the financial impact of the budget cuts.
UTA will likely get the $5 million it requested to continue offering programs through its Regional Nursing Education Center.
"Our hope is that it will continue to enable the College of Nursing to expand student capacity," Sullivan said, explaining that as it continues to draw students, the program must invest in technology and professors. The program had 6,600 students during the spring semester.
Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, and Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, said they pushed to maintain funding for the program, which includes on-campus and online nursing classes.
The nursing program received $5 million in the past two fiscal years, Harris said via e-mail. Harris and Patrick worked to maintain the funding for the next two years.
"I am proud to say this vital funding was continued," Harris wrote.
Patrick said that despite the need for dramatic cuts in higher education, she worked to help protect the center because of the nationwide nursing shortage.
"Although this has been a challenging budget session, due to the estimated $27 billion shortfall, we allocated available resources to the state's most critical areas: nursing shortage and student aid," she said.
Not all efforts by lawmakers to help universities were tied to state dollars being doled out this session.
Harris said he helped UNT get the authority to plan for establishing a pharmacy school.
"There was no money appropriated for this during the 82nd regular session, but they now have the ability to strategically plan for the development of a pharmacy school in the D-FW area," Harris said.
Looking for savings
The initial House Bill 1 proposed more severe cuts.
The final bill, passed by the House and Senate, included a 5.7 percent reduction in state funding for UTA operations.
Operation dollars include money needed to maintain and run the university, not its debt service.
Universities and community colleges were already trying to save dollars because they were required to make cuts to their 2010-11 funding. For UTA, that meant a cut of $10.5 million, or about 7.5 percent.
While UTA is still evaluating the impact of the state funding reductions, it will continue to save dollars in different areas, Sullivan said.
UTA has been working to reduce administrative costs.
For example, the school's computer store is now handled through the same vendor that maintains the bookstore. The university is discontinuing a university-owned print shop, opting instead to contract that service out, Sullivan said.
A recent faculty voluntary separation program will result in an annual savings of $3 million in salaries and benefits.
"We are going to do everything we can to be efficient and focus on our core mission," Sullivan said. "Every idea is on the table."
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675