'Strategic decisions' will guide financial discussion

Central Michigan University President George Ross said he has numerous goals set for this year, but virtually all of them will be impacted by a large decline in enrollment.

CMU is facing an on-campus undergraduate enrollment rate that is set to drop between 5 and 7 percent this fall from last fall, in addition to facing $18 million in budget deficits for 2013-14.

Despite expressing a desire to find an ideal enrollment figure for CMU, Ross said he doesn't have an ideal number of students he would like to see enrolled.

"Our enrollment, within the last few years, when I first worked here, was significantly lower than it is today," he said during a meeting with Central Michigan Life's editorial staff last week. "I had met an alumnus who went to school on this campus when enrollment was under 6,000, and he told me he got a great education and still loved the place. So, I don’t have an ideal number."

Ross said CMU has faced worse budget crises, citing his tenure as vice president in 2003, but he will be issuing guidelines for campus debt reduction on Sept. 14 and 15.

"The challenges we face now aren’t to the level we faced then. At that time, we went through a process, which we’re going through now, as far as getting some broad guidelines to the campus," he said. "Those budget decisions will not come directly from my office. We have a very decentralized budgeting and financial system at this campus. I’ll give broad guidelines."

Despite looming expense reductions, Ross said it's important to keep CMU going.

“We have to move the university forward. We have to invest in priorities," he said. "But you don’t sit still, cut a little from everything, and not have the university moving forward. You have to make what I’ll call strategic decisions.”

Ross said the strategic planning process, which helps dictate how and why decisions are made at CMU, is winding to a close.

"(The strategic planning process) included students, it included faculty, it included staff across this campus – to identify priorities for the university," Ross said. "It will drive our decisions, short-term and long-term, and will be a direct nexus between the strategic plan and the university operating in the capital budget."

Five goals have been identified from the strategic planning process and approved by the Board of Trustees. According to Ross, these goals are student success, research and creative activities, community engagement, faculty and staff support and infrastructure.

Ross hopes that by emphasizing faculty support, the university can become stronger.

“Without a strong faculty, without a strong staff, we don’t serve students well," he said.

Ross also elaborated on what he meant by infrastructure and how it plays a role in the strategic planning process.

"People hear infrastructure and think about a facility. It is that, systems that support the campus, that make the campus move. Anything that makes us move as an entity called CMU, falls into infrastructure," he said.

The facilities master plan, which will focus on making CMU's campus "walkable" and calls on the university to spend more than $400 million on 18 different capital projects, will be received at the September Board of Trustees meeting. The master plan will help to map out potential projects for the university over the next two to 10 years.

"(The plan) is probably the most comprehensive facilities master planning process I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve been in higher education for 25 years," Ross said.


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