Expected funding for Robinson demolition, renovation not included in state budget

There is currently a budget amendments to include $3.5 million for the renovations of Robinson Hall (photo by Amy Rose).
There is currently a budget amendments to include $3.5 million for the renovations of Robinson Hall (photo by Amy Rose).

Senior university administrators held a forum on Jan. 28th on the current budget situation at Mason as well as the implications as to what the governor’s proposed budget would be.

According to Senior Vice President of Administration and Finance, J.J. Davis, there are many internal and external factors  placing pressure on the way forward for the university, ranging from the presence (or lack thereof) of state support to the national conversation around student debt and affordability of higher education.

“We are in a very challenging but exciting time in terms of how we lead and how we navigate successfully,” Davis said. “We are excited that we are continuing to grow as an institution, which sets us apart from many other institutions in the nation, but how we grow strategically and cost-effectively will be a continual challenge.”

In the governor’s recommended budget for Mason, Davis and Stearns noted that the university would be provided with additional resources for financial aid, as well as future enrollment growth funding. 

“The state has made a commitment to those institutions that are potentially going to grow,” Davis said. “And in this category, not all institutions in the state of VA are looking to add students.”

While the state has increased its funding for the operating side of the budget, Davis and Stearns said that the university would see large increases in the area of health insurance and pension costs, resulting in increases in cost to the employer and potential cost increases to the employee.

In addition, the governor’s budget meant complications for some proposed projects that were relying on significant state funding, such as the Robinson Hall renovations.

“Our number one priority is Robinson, and we did not receive the planning money in the governor’s recommended budget, so we will ask for all those funds in the budget amendment process and we have made that communication very clear,” Davis said. “From now in the next several months you will see us making sure we maintain the operating money that we’ve been slated to receive, and also to see if we can get some additional funds.”

Stearns also said that while the governor’s budget had been slight with some areas of funding, the university was able to make the case in the amendment process that they had decently utilized all previous funds from the state.

“We are partly playing defense because we did relatively well with the governor’s proposals; second best of all the higher education institutions in the state,” Stearns said. “The governor’s budget’s emphasis on enrollment growth and results oriented funding is very favorable to us even though the new dollars are not massive. “

In addition, the operating budget will amount to around $5 million which, according to Stearns, does not grow the operating budget significantly. The governor’s proposed budget provided funds for retirement and healthcare employer contributions, degree incentive funding, and enrollment growth funding. The university requested additional funds in the legislative amendment process for research, for online degree completion, the Oasis Program, Nurse Accelerated Program and the Veterans’ Cyber Security Program.

While the operating budget proved to be satisfactory to the administration, the funding provided for the capital budget didn’t meet the expectations of the university. On the capital side, the university asked for funds for both the Robinson construction and funds to update the overall utility and structure across the Fairfax campus to accommodate the growing university population.

“If there’s an area that we’re very concerned about, it’s that the governor’s budget basically stated that they were concerned about their overall AAA bond rating, so they did not provide new funding for capital construction,” Davis said. “It is particularly important for us because we’re in a growth mode.”

Stearns and Davis then presented the overall plan for 2014-2016, which includes the opening of Mason’s campus in Songdo, Korea, the INTO university partnership, the transformation and renovation of Mason Inn and the Tuition pricing model, which involves the university calculating its pricing and competitive nature in the marketplace both in and out of state.

“What we’re juggling now for next year’s budget involves finding out what the state actually does by way of watching the governor’s budget, how they respond to our requests, what the additional costs turn out to be, all of that is still in flux,” Stearns said. “We are juggling the issue of what kind of tuition we will actually charge and we anticipate modest but discernable additional revenue from an increased number of international out of state students next year.”

According to Stearns, the full shape of next year’s budget can only be finalized when the university receives more information from the state. He says that while the budget climate is not desperate or a reduction situation, the governor’s proposed budget does not provide a lot of growth for the 2014-2016 period. 

Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Sources (left) and Fiscal Year 2014 Expense Budget (right) (All data provided by Office of Budget and Planning)


No votes yet
Student Media Group: