Thursday, May 1, 2003

Despite budget, NKU's pushing on

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba called this year's spring convocation a place "where aspirations and reality converge."

NKU aspirations are ambitious. The reality is that the economy is the weakest it has been in years.

The annual convocation at Greaves Concert Hall on Wednesday gave the roughly 200 faculty, students and staff in attendance a look at NKU's five-year strategic plan.

They saw raises held to 3 percent, but saw an $895,000 budget line for the new student center in 2003-'04.

From planning conversations last fall called Vision, Values and Voices, seven strategic priorities were developed for the next five years:

• Broadening access to the university.

• Enhancing academics.

• Strengthening public engagement.

• Ensuring institutional effectiveness.

• Improving campus facilities and environment.

• Enriching the student experience.

• Advancing the school's full mission.

This was the first time since 1997 that Vision, Values and Voices was conducted.

"Our foundation is much stronger today in all respects than it was (in 1997)," said Votruba. "We are much stronger financially today, but with this economy so uncertain, our risk management is much greater."

While all strategic priorities will become reality at some level, he said, there are challenges the university has to confront that didn't exist five years ago.

"Revenues were exceeding projections back then. Companies were selling a lot of goods. Tax revenues were higher," he said. "The economy is much weaker now. The Dow Jones was at 11,500 in 1997. Today, it's at 8,500."

The visioning process for the strategic plan included a committee holding 34 conversations with more than 550 people from NKU and the Northern Kentucky community about the university.

Along with the strategic plan, Votruba outlined some 2003-'04 financial realities.

There will be a budget reserve of 2.5 percent, ; a 3 percent ($1.9 million) increase in faculty and staff salaries and the funding for the new $31 million student union.

In all, NKU is dedicating more than $8.4 million toward the strategic priorities for 2003-2004.

NKU is the youngest of Kentucky's regional universities. It has about 11,500 students and 1,200 faculty members.

"With the extraordinary difficult budget problems in Kentucky, they've developed an excellent budget," said State Rep. Jon Draud, (R-Crestview Hills), who was in attendance.

Draud is a former public school administrator who is now an education professor at NKU.

Draud, however, cautioned that NKU could face some tough times if changes aren't made in Frankfort.

"We're looking at $270 million of one-time money to balance the (state) budget now," he said. "We need tax reform with increased revenue or institutions like Northern will suffer greatly."

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