Budget cuts and student unemployment

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Photo by Hannah Green

The current academic year has been marked by confusion surrounding campus-wide budget changes. Many students returned from winter break and discovered that their student worker jobs had fewer hours available or were eliminated altogether due to cuts in the student labor budget. 

According to Provost Jonathan Sanford and Executive Vice President Dr. John Plotts, the student labor budget cuts are attributed to two issues: a personnel transition during the summer as well as a shortfall in expected revenue. The personnel transition affected the student labor budget directly whereas the shortfall in revenue affected the university’s overall budget.

Sanford worked with departments to lessen the impact of the budget cuts on students. In an interview, he attributed the student labor budget cuts to the confusion surrounding a transition in the chief financial officer’s (CFO) position. 

“The backstory is we had a transition in the business office, in terms of the person overseeing the budget, the CFO position,” Sanford said. The transition came after the sudden death in July of CFO Leonard Robertson. 

After Robertson’s death,  “there was some confusion about how much money was really [in the student labor budget],” said Sanford. “It wasn’t until the semester was well underway that we realized that there was less money set aside for student labor than we realized. That’s what caused the reduction. It wasn’t so much a reduction. It was a realization that there was less money than we knew.”

When this year’s budget was finalized around May 2019, it was thought that $1.2 million was available to pay both work-study students and non-work-study students. 

However, that was not the case.

“There was a number put in the budget, like $870,000, but really what we did is we told everyone on campus was that ‘you have a million’, so everybody budgeted a million dollars. So then we came back and said, ‘wow, we got to try to get this down to $870 [thousand], because that was what was put in the budget originally,” said Plotts. 

“When we realized we weren’t even going to get close to that then we said ‘okay, we’re going to have to find other places on campus to make these cuts, either in operating budget, reduction of staff … [and] other places that ended up absorbing budgetary shortfall.”

Plotts also clarified that students using work-study would not have been affected by the cuts since their pay is federally funded. Only students who did not qualify for or use work-study would have been directly impacted by the cuts.  

Plotts mentioned that another issue the University of Dallas faced was a shortfall in revenue caused by lower than expected enrollment in the College of Business. 

According to Plotts, 700 students were expected to be enrolled in the fall, however, the expectations fell short as approximately 625 students enrolled. The 75-person difference meant that a million dollars in expected revenue was simply not available, so the budget had to be readjusted in many ways.

Overall, the university budgets approximately $55 million a year, which includes the student labor budget, but the decrease in revenue meant that the university budget was $1 million short.  Finding a way to balance the budget was difficult, according to Plotts and Sanford. 

Plotts and Sanford said that cutting student labor was not the first choice when it came to balancing the budget. Sanford along with the other deans recognized the importance of tutoring services and lab assistants, so those areas were prioritized.  Steps taken to alleviate the shortfall included reducing mailings to students to save on postage, as well as saving money by watering the grass less frequently. 

Still, the university is expected to spend about $55.5 million, or $500,000 over budget, despite the campus-wide changes. 

Despite the campus wide budget cuts, Plotts assures that the university is in good financial health. 

Still, the budget cuts have had varied effects on departmental operations, students’ lives and finances.

“Work opportunity funds that are supporting lab assistants and tutoring in biology did not receive a significant reduction,” said Biology Department Chair Dr. William Cody. “Like many other departments, we did receive a reduction in our operating funds, which in the biology departments is supplemented by lab fees. We’ve made a number of changes in other ways outside of the classroom so we don’t see an impact on the level of instruction we can provide in the classroom.”

The biology department has less money available to support visiting speakers and now has to charge for lab manuals that were previously provided to students.

In an email, Politics Department Chair Dr. David Upham characterized the budgetary adjustments as “the minor budgetary challenge.”  

Though tutoring services were prioritized,  they still were affected by the budget cut. 

Located on the first floor of the Braniff Graduate Building, the tutoring center assists students in the subject areas of economics, history, philosophy, politics, psychology and theology. Since winter break, the tutoring center has had to temporarily cut hours because of the financial adjustments, according to academic success advisor Daniel Adams.

Adams also said that the reduction has inspired the tutoring center to “look at alternative methods of funding” in order to “reattain and surpass” the number of tutoring hours the center offered before. 

As Plotts said, alternative funding comes in the form of federally awarded work-study funds to be used in addition to the departmental funds. The center is currently in the process of employing more tutors awarded work-study, rather than those without work-study. This will help to ensure that the university assists students with financial needs while still maintaining a budget. 

According to Upham, “Thus far, the only major negative impact of the budget reductions is that we have had some difficulty in obtaining a printer-copier sufficient for our needs.” However, the politics department has also cut hours and a student worker. 

Another effect of the financial adjustments hits closer to home for students living in traditional residences halls. 

In an email, residence coordinator Sarah Baker wrote that “The RHA program no longer exists. The Interns and Reps did a wonderful job at fulfilling RHA’s mission to build community that arose from the residents themselves. Unfortunately, however, RHA was cut due to budget constraints and to the decision made by the University to move programming in a different direction.” 

Along with RHA interns, two Campus Activities Board (CAB) interns lost their jobs as well. 

One of these interns, senior business major Zach Reyman, interviewed for the CAB head photographer position last spring. He got the job and came to campus a week early last fall for the internship. He worked around 10 hours a week, capturing events and moments for CAB, particularly for the yearbook and social media. He also worked with other CAB members to prepare for events. 

Over winter break, Reyman received a phone call in which his boss informed him that, because of the budgetary adjustments, CAB could no longer employ him. The news disappointed Reyman, especially considering his consistent efforts to be financially responsible. 

Reyman has worked a variety of university jobs during his time at UD, such as being a resident assistant, managing the girls’ volleyball team and working at the Cap Bar. The loss forced Reyman to look for another job on campus. While his new job in the business program pays more per hour, it offers fewer hours overall to the young student.

Reyman’s experience is not an isolated one. Other UD students have suffered similar financial stresses due to budget adjustments. 

“I think of myself as a nice, financially responsible person,” Reyman said. “And it’s hard to kind of budget when half of your income disappears.”

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