The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday January 28th

University Officials Focus On 5-Year Financial Plan

When Chancellor James Moeser came to UNC, he vowed to make it the top public university in the nation. But that goal has become more difficult to reach after withstanding several years of substantial budget reductions.

Officials hope that with a comprehensive five-year financial plan, the University will be able to continue moving toward that goal despite an uncertain economy.

In June, the UNC Board of Trustees suggested that in light of recent state budget shortfalls, UNC should focus on long-term financial planning around major issues on campus rather than on a yearly assessment by individual departments.

Shortly after, Provost Robert Shelton and Nancy Suttenfield, vice chancellor for finance and administration, divided the University's goal-based needs into 16 plans, each overseen by a team of officials.

Over the past few months, the committees have made lists of their top priorities for the next five years -- along with projected costs and sources of finance -- that will help the University meet its goals of advancement and stability.

All of the committees have presented their final products to the vice chancellors. Now the budget office has to sift through the phone-book-sized documents to prepare for a BOT presentation in March.

Bob Knight, assistant to the vice chancellor for finance and administration, described the five-year financial plan as a "rainbow of planning," with academic planning on top, followed by equally important -- but not as prominent -- types of planning, such as financial, human resources and information technology.

"The financial plan is meant to integrate the planning activities that are going on all over campus," Knight said. "People all over campus have to be involved because it touches so many people and places."

Already this fiscal year, UNC has had to cut permanently almost $13 million from its budget to help make up for a $1.8 billion state shortfall. Last fall, UNC was asked to cut another $8.2 million temporarily, although many administrators aren't optimistic the school will see that money again.

N.C. legislators are anticipating another nearly $2 billion hole in the state's budget this upcoming fiscal year.

As the economy continues to slump, the University will be forced to cope with paying for the same quality of services for more students with less money to spend, underscoring the need for a long-term financial plan, said Dean Bresciani, interim vice chancellor for student affairs.

"We're looking at how to maintain, if not improve, the quality of services offered to students on campus in the face of a constricted budget," Bresciani said.

This is especially true for the student life plan, headed by Bresciani, which covers auxiliary services such as student housing, student health and state-funded services such as career and psychological counseling.

"We're really stretched to the breaking point as far as the quality of services to students is concerned," Bresciani said. "Student Health has to deliver the highest possible quality services but compete against other facilities paying their staff more, like Duke Medical (Hospital)."

The technology plan also is a prominent part of what is needed to bring UNC into the national spotlight. Steve Jarrell, interim vice chancellor for information technology, said his planning committee selected about 40 projects members thought were important for success in the next few years.

"The budget is not looking promising at this time, but we recognize that IT is very important right now," Jarrell said. "There are a lot of infrastructural things on the list, like accessibility services for handicapped students, extending the campus wireless network and work on the campus network."

Another important aspect of the entire plan is research. Tony Waldrop, vice chancellor for research, said the top priorities for research are to attract and retain top faculty and graduate students, identify new areas of excellence and invest for sustained growth.

A large part of the financial plan is accounting for the $1.8 billion that the Carolina First campaign aims to raise from alumni and friends of the University, which Speed Hallman, director of development communication, said can be used all over campus.

"(Carolina First is) a comprehensive campaign that benefits the entire University, from athletics to scholarships," Hallman said.

"The financial plan is very important for the University because if you don't know where you're going, any path will take you there."

Even though all of the planning teams have presented their top priorities to the vice chancellors, Knight said the hardest part still is to come.

"There is not enough money in the world to cover all of the things that were presented, but we have to make these decisions."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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