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Archive for Monday, September 28, 2009

Tight budgets make KU schools work smarter

September 28, 2009

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As schools at Kansas University hunker down under tighter budgets, academic leaders are taking new approaches to maintaining academic quality.

Before dismissing an idea simply because it costs too much, the KU School of Business first tries to assess what it would mean for students, and tries to take a long-term approach.

“If it’s a good value, then we see how we can figure out a way to do that,” said Bill Fuerst, the school’s dean.

He cited a program offering a master’s degree in supply chain management at Fort Leavenworth, new last year, that enrolled 11 people at a sizable financial loss to the school.

This fall, 26 people enrolled, and Fort Leavenworth is in discussions to establish new programs. The program now generates enough money to cover costs, Fuerst said.

While the business school must make cutbacks in other areas — such as increasing class sizes and putting off hiring faculty members — the school continues to see success. Among those was moving from 40th to 28th in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of public business schools.

Mason Heilman, student body president, agreed that maintaining faculty levels and keeping class sizes down were important.

He said he preferred to see the institution save money through things like holding off on building maintenance or other areas that don’t directly impact students’ education.

“We’ve been through so many cuts, we’ve already chopped off all the low-hanging fruit,” Heilman said. “Now we’re looking at some really tough choices.”

Danny Anderson, KU’s interim provost, said not all suggestions on how to save money are good ones. He said suggestions to combine some departments have not saved other schools as much money as initially thought.

“Over time, academic departments are always looking toward the future,” he said. “They’re changing and they work with their deans in terms of redefining what they are.”

In the School of Engineering, Dean Stuart Bell tries to manage as efficiently as possible for a marketplace that continues to demand engineers, even in down economic times.

Bell said he saw the balance between academic quality and available money as something like a math equation.

“For engineers, if you change one variable, how are you going to get there on the other side,” he said.

He said priorities must be made. Bell said he tries to protect the research and discovery aspects of the school, which have doubled in size during the last six years, and quality of instruction.

However, he said, impacts are still felt — and classes are accommodating more and more students and they’re offered less frequently.

“The reality is, when you take money away, and you’re in a budget constraint like we are, it’s going to have impacts,” Bell said.

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