Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Support UOG

"Support Tritons of Today, Tomorrow"
by Robert A. Underwood
Guam PDN
October 24, 2012

The University of Guam has faced a dramatic reduction in Government of Guam support over the past decade. We are a public corporation chartered by the government of Guam and our base operational support comes from government of Guam appropriations. Without this funding, our student learning, academic quality, federal grants and public service are not sustainable.
We are appreciative and we recognize our public obligations.

But the GovGuam appropriation has declined over the past two decades. In 1994, UOG received $31.9 million in general operations appropriations and the annual amount has been consistently less than $28 million in subsequent years. Moreover, the GovGuam portion of current total University expenditures has declined significantly even as our enrollment has grown by 20 percent over the past decade.

The year 2002 was the last year in which GovGuam appropriations accounted for 50 percent of the University's expenses. Today, the University is a $100 million-plus operation and approximately 30 percent of that comes from appropriations. The balance comes from tuition, federal grants and contracts, fundraising and the ingenuity of an extremely talented faculty and staff.

This is occurring elsewhere and the result has been typical. There has been a steady decline of "state support" to state institutions (nationally, by 7.6 percent from 2011-2012) and there has been some cost-shifting, although not proportionate to the cuts.

Tuition has gone up but not at the rate that state support has declined. The University of Hawaii has approved a 35-percent increase over the next five years, the Cal State University system increased tuition last year by 9 percent (tuition has nearly doubled in five years) and Guam Community College increased its tuition by 18 percent last year.

The University of Guam has responded differently. We have not raised tuition for the past three years, even though our support has declined slightly and we have been subjected to "hold backs," additional costs, new requirements and modest inflation. We did everything we could to forestall a tuition increase.

Absent new assistance, we will be forced to implement a 10-percent increase for this year and 5-percent increases in the subsequent two years. The financial integrity of the university is paramount in maintaining accreditation, securing new funding and remaining an efficient institution while providing many more students a quality education.

Have been responsive

The university is celebrating its 60th anniversary by trying to secure more funding on its own. The university is proposing legislation that will allow it to become even more adept at securing funding through public-private partnerships. The university has adopted cost-cutting measures, eliminated positions and is developing a new 21st-century university that will rely less on public funds. We have been responsive to existing conditions and taken on more responsibility for our future.

Those of us who attended a public university in the 20th century attended at a time when our tuition burden was responsible for 20 to 30 percent of the total cost of our education. This meant that we had access to college and we could attend with less financial assistance and fewer student loans. Most of the island's current leadership benefitted from this arrangement.

But today's college students are expected to carry the burden of 50 percent of the cost of their education. They are not being offered the same access to college and opportunity that most of us had in the past. This is not the way for a society to invest in a prosperous future and in the quality and number of its future leaders, teachers, businessmen, nurses, military officers and professionals.
There is not a straight line between tuition increases and enrollment. There is not a straight line between tuition relief and financial solvency. But there is a straight line between economic development and a strong university. There is a straight line between local entrepreneurship, professional development and University attendance. There is a straight line between increased consumer spending and contributions to the public treasury and university attendance.

As it turns out, tuition assistance and adequate funding for the university is less about helping individual Triton students or a community of scholars. It turns out that it is really about investing in a prosperous future and educated workforce for Guam. Students still need the opportunity to attend and students continue to be the best investment for our island.

Support the university and support the Tritons of today and more importantly, of tomorrow.

Biba UOG!

Robert A. Underwood is the president of the University of Guam.

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