The Dollars and Sense Behind the Cuts

In response to your questions and reactions to the cuts in undergraduate enrollment announced in February, we wanted to share with you some of the budget numbers as well as the process that led to the decision.

The UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing allocates 95% of the funds we receive from the state to support faculty and staff salaries. We have absorbed nearly 10% in budget cuts from the state over the last two years. Thus far we have dealt with those cuts without affecting academics. Early on we cut non-personnel items by decreasing supplies, delaying replacement of computers, and other means. As cuts continued we eliminated some vacant staff positions, reduced support services, eliminated most T.A. positions supported by state funding, reduced staff, and moved some full-time employees to part-time.

Thus when we received communication to permanently cut 5% more ($483,407) for the 2011-2012 fiscal year – with the possibility that those cuts could reach as high as 10 or 15% – we had very few places left to trim. The School of Nursing takes seriously its commitment to deliver high-quality undergraduate nursing education, and we will not compromise that quality.

After reviewing many options for meeting the budget realities for the upcoming year and beyond, we decided that a decrease in undergraduate enrollment by 25% was sadly necessary. The undergraduate program is our largest and most uniform program. On the other hand, our graduate programs are very specialized, with some of the individual programs having as few as 12 students. While cutting such small programs would have very little impact on meeting our share of the budget cut, it would conceivably have a great impact on the North Carolina’s growing need for advanced practice nurses.

Because the UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing offers its first professional degree at the undergraduate level, we are more vulnerable to state cuts than some of our peer health affairs schools at Chapel Hill. Decreasing enrollment in the undergraduate program by 25% will save almost $300,000 next year and will save additional money as we graduate currently enrolled students. For every eight undergraduate nursing students we teach, their two years of supervised clinical experiences alone costs us approximately $72,000 in fixed-term faculty salaries. These are the clinical experts on whom we rely to provide the superior education for which the School of Nursing is known.

Decreasing undergraduate enrollment is not something we wanted to do, nor something that we took lightly. The loss will be direct for those fixed-term faculty who will be faced with the reality of not having their contracts renewed in July and for those ABSN applicants who had hoped to launch their nursing studies in May. Furthermore, we realize that our decision will impact the state’s nursing workforce as well as students wanting to enter the nursing field. With the announcement of our decision, we are witnessing the emotional toll the cuts are taking on our faculty, staff, students, alumni, pre-nursing majors, and the community.

Update: In March, the school announced some additional changes stemming from the budget cuts. It will suspend admissions into the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) option of the BSN program and the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner option in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program after August 2011. Read more in RN-BSN and Women’s Health NP Options Suspended as of August.