Tuition forum clarifies budget issues

Oakland University Student Congress held a tuition forum in Fireside Lounge on Thursday afternoon. The meeting was scheduled to be in Gold Room C where there were 100 chairs and a podium, but it was moved to Fireside in an attempt to attract a larger audience.

The 11-person roundtable discussion – which included OUSC members, both outgoing and newly elected, as well as a few administration members – lasted about an hour and touched on OU’s budget process and the current state of student tuition.

Saman Waquad, the outgoing student body vice president, said the point of the forum was to see where tuition money goes.

Tuition, School of Medicine and Housing

John Beaghan, vice president of finance and administration, said he has “no clue what (Oakland’s) tuition rates are going to be” next year.

He said the school is planning for a minimum 3 percent cut in state appropriations. On a per student basis, OU received the second least amount of state funding this year.

“We’re going about this in a best case, worst case scenario,” Beaghan said.

State appropriations, according to Beaghan, make up a quarter of OU’s budget, while student tuition accounts for 75 percent of it.

“Twenty-five years ago, that was reversed,” Beaghan said.

According to the OU Web site, the 2009-10 tuition was $9,168.

“We very specifically have a strategy to try to keep our tuition rates at state average or below that,” Beaghan said.

In winter 2006, Oakland dropped all mandatory fees outside of tuition.

“We’re the only school that I know of doing this,” Beaghan said.

Tom LeMarbe, director of budget and financial planning, said the Board of Trustees tends “not to compartmentalize our budget much; they look at the whole (thing).”

He said some things on campus, like university housing and Meadow Brook Theatre, are self-sustaining and do make a profit, though not much.

“We’re not in a business to make a profit off students…we reinvest it in (the school),” said Mary Beth Snyder, vice president of student affairs and enrollment.

The OU William Beaumont School of Medicine operates the same way, Beaghan said.

“School of Medicine is paying for the School of Medicine,” he said.

The forum also touched on housing, which university housing director Jim Zentmeyer said has become “very dense.”

Snyder drafted a housing proposal in the fall, but the board tabled it to direct more focus on the School of Medicine.

As to when housing would be addressed, Beaghan said, “I wouldn’t put a date to it, but it will go to the board some day.”

The Budget Process

Beaghan said nearly half the budget is “zero based,” in that it starts from scratch every year. That includes items like financial aid, which requires a projection of student numbers and a determination of awards.

He said 85 percent of the current budget is “fixed” – things like faculty salaries, debt and insurance.

“You can’t just turn the ship quickly on those kinds of things,” Beaghan said.

He said the provost and the college deans look into faculty and other department needs “a full year in advance.” Planning the budget is a continuous process, he said.

Departmental budgets are “due today,” Beaghan said. Those budgets are expected to include a 5 percent reduction in costs.