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January 25, 2007

BPC gets academic, financial planning updates

New developments in Pitt’s financial picture and academic planning were on the University Senate budget policies committee’s (BPC) agenda last week.

Arthur Ramicone, vice chancellor for Budget and Controller, reported on the impact of Pitt’s enrollment on finances.

Steady improvements in Pitt’s four-year graduation rate, which was 33 percent in 2000 and had risen to more than 50 percent by 2006, meant that Pitt had fewer students who stayed for five years and thus accepted more freshmen to keep the books balanced, Ramicone told BPC at its Jan. 19 meeting.

“In terms of enrollment, the fall was good,” he said. “We were over-enrolled by about 250, which for us [in the financial area] has positive budget [implications]. If our retentions hold for the spring, we’re in good shape. We also had a nice increase in out-of-state students.”

While the overall undergraduate student body has about 20 percent out-of-state students, this fall Pitt increased the percentage of out-of-state freshmen to 25 percent, the highest it has been in recent memory, Ramicone said.

“That was a pretty big jump,” he said. “Of course, you can have the same number of students and depending on the mix still have an increase in dollars,” because of the higher out-of-state tuition rate, which at $20,156 is nearly double the in-state students’ rate, he pointed out.

Committee chair Stephen Carr commented that the rise in four-year graduation rates indicates that the demographics of the student body are changing. For example, more students are coming to Pitt with AP credits, he noted.

“Basically, it’s a very positive sign, although the increase in student enrollment hits some departments, like English or math, very hard” because they have to accommodate the larger student population, Carr said.

He said that BPC will invite Betsy Porter, director of Admissions and Financial Aid, to discuss fall enrollment projections.

“That should be done before our final recommendations about salary increases are made [to the chancellor], especially if there’s a change in the mix of in-state and out-of-state enrollments,” Carr said. Changes in tuition revenue affect the overall operating budget, which is the purview of BPC, he said.

BPC member Richard Pratt asked how Pitt’s effort to increase out-of-state enrollment sits with state legislators.

“To my knowledge, they’ve never been specific on that,” Ramicone said. “They’ve never set a threshold.” He said Pitt is able to tell legislators that no in-state applicant is rejected in favor of a comparable out-of-state applicant. “So the out-of-state class does have higher credentials.”

Carr added, “From the legislators’ point of view, it’s good for the state to have out-of-state students come in who might eventually live and work here.”

Ramicone also reported that, through November, Pitt’s National Institutes of Health research funding was up over last year’s. “It’s hard to predict what will happen, but what’s in the pipeline so far is very encouraging,” he said.

On the academic planning front, Robert F. Pack, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, reported that while Pitt’s schools always have been required to prepare annual plans for the Provost’s office to review, there now is a new emphasis on assessment in that process.

Pack chairs a new committee that has developed an assessment methodology to guide the schools.

“The significant emphasis this year, that we introduced last year, is on assessment. We made it clear that for the next several years that will be the major new initiative in the planning process,” Pack explained. “This is an assessment of the effectiveness of programs. That will occur at all levels throughout departments, assessing their majors, their general education requirements, the preparation of students for employment, all of those areas.”

The assessments that are done at the department level then are incorporated by the schools into their annual plans, he said.

This emphasis on assessment is partly in preparation for Pitt’s five-year mid-point review by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which evaluates Pitt’s programs every 10 years. “This isn’t as extensive as the 10-year review,” Pack said. “It is simply outlining our plans and the issues that we’re moving on to Middle States, and five years from now we’ll be asked to give a more complete report.”

In other BPC developments:

• The committee will invite Provost James Maher to discuss in a closed meeting how he distributes the discretionary “marketing and equity imbalance” funds. This fiscal year, Pitt increased the overall salary pool by 3.25 percent, of which 0.5 percent was centrally allocated to the provost for him to address marketing and equity issues.

• BPC plans to invite Paul Supowitz, a Pitt commonwealth lobbyist, to discuss the governor’s proposed budget message, which is expected to be delivered on Feb. 6.

• Ramicone reported that Pitt administrators are scheduled to present their case for next fiscal year’s commonwealth appropriation funding to the state House and Senate appropriations committees on Feb. 27.

—Peter Hart

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