Mroz: Tech financial picture improving

HOUGHTON – The Michigan Technological University Board of Control is scheduled to vote on the fiscal year 2013-14 General Fund Operating Budget at its regular Friday meeting, but Tech President Glenn Mroz gave an overview of university finances at a campus forum at the Memorial Union Ballroom Tuesday, including details about a new tuition model.

Continuing reductions in state appropriations have led to recent deficit spending, and Tech’s almost $13.3 million unrestricted current fund balance from June 30, 2011, was reduced to less than $8.9 million just a year later. Now, the latest FY 2012-13 third-quarter projection is to be back up to almost $10.6 million by the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.

Mroz also discussed the university’s bond rating history, which most recently includes a reduced rating by Moody’s Investors Services from Aa3 to A1, but which saw the outlook improved from negative to stable.

The future financial picture is a little brighter, though, as Mroz explained state appropriations are projected to rise this year, amid revenue growth in several other areas as well.

A state budget is likely still a few weeks away, but the governor’s proposed budget calls for a 2.8 percent increase in appropriations, the same as the Senate’s proposed budget, with the House proposing a 2.1 percent increase

Even with increased state appropriations, Tech is projecting what would amount to a 2.9 percent increase in tuition, but it will follow the plateau tuition model, which will charge students of full-time status (12-18 credits) at a flat rate based on 15 credits. Financial aid packages will be based on those 15 credits as well.

“State appropriations will be in the range of 2.8 percent maybe. It depends on where it all ends up in Lansing,” Mroz said in a post-forum interview. “… Because appropriations only cover about 16 percent of the budget at this point, an increase there just covers a pretty small piece of the budget compared to tuition. Tuition is about double the state appropriations.”

During the forum, Mroz said several students told him they took heavier credit loads earlier in their careers with the intention of having a lighter load the final year and they would face a greater financial burden.

“We put money in the budget so we could help these students out and make sure that they can graduate from Michigan Tech successfully,” he said.

The reasons Mroz cited for moving to a plateau tuition model include a “greater degree of predictability for students coming,” bringing in line student aid awards with tuition charges and increasing pressure from the state to encourage students to graduate sooner. A typical degree program would be completed in four years with an average of 15 credits taken per semester.

Also Tuesday, Mroz:

explained how projected enrollment numbers are in line with 2009, “one of our better years,” he said. The number of accepted applications for females are “off the charts compared to recent years,” he added, showing a graph indicating such, even in the College of Engineering.

detailed an overall increase of about 15.4 percent in sponsored research awards, based on a third-quarter projection.

described some blended learning initiatives, which Provost Max Seel will talk about at Friday’s Board of Control meeting.

said 739 undergraduate students and 229 graduate students (both unaudited numbers) are scheduled to graduate this Saturday at Spring Commencement. David Barnes, program director for Strategy and Emerging Internet Technologies at IBM, will be the commencement speaker.

recognized several Tech individuals for their donations to Tech’s $200 million fundraising campaign, which ends June 30 and has entered the quiet period. The final total will be announced in September.

answered several anonymously submitted questions, including about Daniell Heights rent increases, but having the same furniture conditions as 50 years ago (a Request For Information is out to several vendors now to address just that); fees for international students (they don’t pay taxes to the state, so they must contribute in some way); and “why isn’t more being done to curb wasteful spending on our campus?” (Tech has a very decentralized spending set-up, but is following a “Lean practice” aimed at identifying and eliminating waste).