George Mason University

News at Mason

Senior Vice President, Provost Report on University Budget

February 6, 2012

By Robin Herron

At an open meeting for faculty and staff on Feb. 1, Senior Vice President Morrie Scherrens and Provost Peter Stearns provided an overview of Mason’s $900 million budget and discussed proposed legislation for Virginia’s 2012-14 biennial budget that will affect Mason.

The bad news is that no salary increases are on the horizon, and the 3-percent, one-time bonus for state employees that has been proposed is not feasible, since Mason would have to set aside twice the amount of the bonus, or $9 million, by June 30 in order to meet the state’s requirements for funding the bonus. “We don’t have that,” Scherrens said, adding, “We hope that they can figure out a better way to finance it.”

The good news is that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget “was better than we thought it would be,” Scherrens said, providing an additional $100 million to higher education overall.

In the proposed budget, Mason would receive additional funds to graduate students (degree incentives), increase the university’s base funding, support enrollment growth, provide more in-state student financial aid and increase student retention. In addition, the budget would restore some funds from a previous budget reduction. Under the plan, Mason would be required to reallocate some general funds to programs and strategies related to the Top Jobs 21 legislation, such as increasing the number of graduates in STEM fields.

In response to the plan, Mason has requested the following amendments:

  • Restore the auxiliary enterprise interest
  • Restore the maintenance reserve
  • Bond authorization to renovate the baseball stadium
  • Fund improvements to the heating/cooling plant
  • Fund improvements to Robinson, King and Krug Halls

Scherrens also made the following points in regard to the budget:

  • Mason’s tuition is in the middle range of the 15 public Virginia universities
  • Mason’s enrollment has continued to grow
  • Mason is slowly increasing its out-of-state student enrollment (enrollment is now about 80 percent in-state and 20 percent out-of-state) and the incoming freshman class will be slightly more than 25 percent out-of-state students

“We are trying to balance our need for additional resources to provide a quality educational experience with our longstanding commitment to access and affordability,” Scherrens said.  “We are telling the state that we are lean, we operate effectively, and we are continuously looking for operational efficiencies, but with the existing funding disparities our challenge remains daunting.  By all measures we do more with less at Mason.  You have been the reason for our past success and you are the key to our future.”

On the positive side, too, Scherrens said, Mason has been able to use bridge funding — carrying over funds from one year to the next — to help the university through the past few years of tight budgets. As a result, the university doesn’t anticipate any further cuts to individual units. Going forward, the university hopes to be able to address some unfunded priorities, stabilize tuition rates and improve compensation for faculty and staff.

“The bottom line is that we don’t get from point A to point B without your support,” Scherrens said, speaking of faculty and staff. “But I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Things are not all terrible, they’re not all gloomy.”

Stearns presented another perspective, commenting, “We face a strategic challenge. We’ll be all right next year. But long-term prospects are truly daunting.”

Stearns pointed out that raising tuition is the least attractive option as a source of additional funding. Instead, the university will increasingly look to sources such as auxiliary enterprises, more out-of-state students who pay a higher tuition rate, distance education, private philanthropy and tech transfer. Stearns also noted that increasing research funding, while not a direct contributor to the university’s bottom line, “helps the institution and helps us move forward.”

In conclusion, Stearns said, “This is our challenge in the next five to 10 years. We’ll be assailed with proposals to do things differently. If you have ideas for additional sources of revenue or cutting costs, we would like to hear them. It’s not a bright situation, but we’re not out of resources to control what we can do.”

The Virginia General Assembly is now in session and is scheduled to conclude its deliberations by March 10.

To view the Feb.1 budget forum, see:

If you have a problem viewing the recording, click the Flash button in the upper right hand corner of the video.