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WCU All Funds Budget Forecast gives overview of university finances

WCU enrolls more than 10,000 students. WCU enrolls more than 10,000 students.

I In response to a new requirement from the UNC Board of Governors, Western Carolina University has adopted its first-ever All Funds Budget Forecast — a document that, despite the name, is not a budget, said Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Mike Byers.

“It is not a budget. We don’t use it as a budget. We’ve reshaped the numbers that are in our actual budget. It’s really a forecast of what the next year will be,” Byers told the WCU Board of Trustees Finance and Audit Committee during a March 2 meeting.

The document is not organized in the way that Byers and his office find most useful for budgeting for the year ahead. Rather, it’s organized so that the BOG can easily see the full picture of WCU’s finances — the grand total of all revenues and expenses across the university and in each of 24 units within it. However, Chancellor Kelli R. Brown told the committee, she expects the document will improve transparency and stewardship at the university.

“Really the importance of this I think as we move forward is it allows us as stakeholders of the institution to better understand resource allocation moving forward, so we can see that among the different areas, so for instance, within colleges,” she said. “It enhances our stewardship of our state dollars as we move forward, and improves transparency in campus engagement, which I think is really important to look at those expenses as well as revenues coming in.”

Byers said the BOG’s decision to require the All Funds Budget Forecast was not targeted at WCU but rather toward research institutions, which have “massive” overhead receipts and some non-state funding sources like grants that can be used to pay those expenses. Some BOG members wanted a better understanding of how those funds could be used to cover other overhead expenses within university operations, Byers said. The document could also be used to evaluate requests for fee increases.

“They wanted to be able to know what the institution’s capacity was and be able to ask questions: ‘Well, why do we need to increase this fee when you could maybe use this over here?’” Byers said.

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The final All Funds Budget Forecast, which the Board of Trustees approved unanimously at its March 3 meeting, says that WCU expects to have a total of $307 million to work with in 2023-2024, of which 49% will come from state appropriations. Sales and services are expected to bring in $64.5 million, tuition and fees $51.5 million, contracts and grants $30.3 million, gifts and investments $7.7 million and other revenues $2.1 million. Expenses are forecast to total $298.8 million, leaving $11.6 million in fund balance.

The 24 units include WCU’s six colleges, academic affairs, student affairs, financial aid, the library, sponsored research, university administration, business affairs, facilities, human resources, information technology, public safety, advancement, dining, housing, parking, athletics, student health and other auxiliaries. Of the 24, financial aid has the largest amount of revenue, at $30.7 million, closely followed by housing with $27.1 million and arts and sciences with $24.8 million. Sponsored research is by far the least-funded of the 24 units, with forecast revenues of $393,000.

Byers said that each of WCU’s fee-supported units are expected to maintain a fund balance equal to six months of expenses.

“The aggregation of that across all of our units is one of the reasons that WCU is so fiscally strong when it comes to credit ratings and the like,” he said.

The policy proved critical when the pandemic arrived in 2020. Despite sending students home and refunding meal plan money and rent revenues, he said, the university did not have to lay anybody off.

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