Patrice Reneé Harris |
Aerial View of UVI St. Thomas Campus. Photo Credit: uvi.edu
ST. THOMAS — Students at the University of the Virgin Islands will have to brace themselves for a possible tuition increase in the upcoming academic year in light of the university’s continued fiscal challenges. As the university continues to tighten its belt amidst decreasing government appropriations, increasing tuition will likely be one of the new schemes to improve its financial situation.
In an email on Feb. 9, David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands alerted the UVI community that there was a deficit in the 2016 fiscal year budget. Dr. Hall explained the three main factors that contributed to the deficit.
“This present challenge is a result of various factors, including (1) the drop in enrollment over the previous fiscal years from 2,700 students to 2,300 students which has lowered our revenues and unfortunately we have not made the appropriate adjustment in expenditures; (2) the drop in our government appropriations over the previous fiscal years has eliminated a lot of the flexibility in our operating budget; and (3) some of our accounting controls have not forced units to stay within their budgeted amounts,” the email read.
In an interview with the UVI Voice on Feb. 15, President Hall explained that the units were not maliciously overspending, but accumulated unpaid bills that rolled over from the end of the previous fiscal year.
In light of such, President Hall said the university is introducing new monitoring tools. These controls include denying authorization for purchases that exceed department budgets, closely monitoring department budgets towards the end of the fiscal year, and bringing forward the cut off point for orders and purchases.
“All of us have to be much more willing to stay within the budgets we are given and not exceed them, even when they are good reasons to do it,” Hall said.
In an effort to mitigate the impending deficit of $1.4 million, the president asked each unit of the university to reduce its budget by 4.8 percent for fiscal year 2016. In doing so, Dr. Hall asked each department to ensure that the reduction in budget does not affect employees’ jobs nor the quality of students’ education.
According to Hall, the fall in enrollment by some 400 students significantly affects the school’s operational budget, as the faculty size remained the same.
“We are also attempting to enhance our revenues through various new programs and especially through an increase in enrollment,” President Hall said. “The university is looking for ways to increase class sizes but not affect the quality of students’ education.”
Though the proposal is not final, Hall said a tuition increase is likely to be among the new measures to circumvent the deficit. The decision will only become final after the president proposes the tuition increase to the board and meets with the Student Government Associations and the student population.
Zoé Walker, vice president of the Student Government Association on St. Croix said the tuition increase is warranted in light of UVI’s fiscal challenges.
“I can understand why the students would find this proposed tuition increase frightening. But our students must remember that UVI currently has the most affordable tuition in the nation as an HBCU. In order for us to continue to receive a quality education in paradise, the university has to do certain things to achieve that, especially in light of a decrease in funds received from the government.”
Walker is also advocating for an improvement in the university’s payment option, stating that the options should be more flexible to accommodate students.
“I also believe that the university must observe that, although it is not a drastic increase, every student’s situation is different and (we) should make sure we have appropriate payment plans available,” Walker said.
Though the fiscal challenges are burdensome, President Hall is confident that UVI will overcome them as it has in the past.
“…I am still optimistic about UVI and where we are heading,” he said. “We have had fiscal challenges for the last four or five years. Students should not be fearful that this signals some major problem with the institution, but it is just unfortunately a part of doing business these days, where you have to tighten your belts and ensure you are generating more revenue. Besides a tuition increase, we are looking at new programs that can bring more revenue to the institution,” Hall said.
President Hall will present a revised fiscal year 2016 budget to the Finance and Budget Committee of the Board on Feb. 22 and approval is expected at its March 5 meeting.