(Press release) — Efforts to improve the University of Wyoming’s financial accounting and reporting systems, recruit and retain high-performing faculty and staff members, and upgrade UW’s science and engineering facilities are reflected in a state budget request approved by the UW Board of Trustees Wednesday.

In addition, the university’s block grant request for the 2017-18 biennium proposes funding for operations and maintenance of new UW buildings; dollars to match private contributions for entrepreneurship, water management, and energy and engineering; matching funds for athletic competitiveness; funding for carbon engineering research; funding for a new research aircraft; and money for new outreach programs in counselor education and nursing.

The budget request now goes to the state Department of Administration and Information’s Budget Division and Gov. Matt Mead, who later this year will present his state budget recommendations to the Legislature for the two-year period beginning July 1, 2016.

“Coming at a time when the outlook for state revenues is uncertain, this budget request represents our best effort to recognize those concerns while moving the university forward in key areas,” Board of Trustees President Dave Palmerlee says. “The bulk of the request reflects continued movement on projects already supported by state elected leaders, and we believe the other items are essential to maintain and enhance the quality of instruction, research and service provided by the university to the state.”

Trustees voted to request that any compensation increases granted to other state agencies be applied to UW employees as well. In addition, the board asks for $1 million annually to retain and recruit top faculty and staff members — the same amount provided for that purpose in the 2015 supplemental budget.

“To date, the allotment of these retention increases has been highly successful in retaining the university’s best faculty,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “Having that tool will be critical for us as we move forward, especially if additional dollars for state employee compensation are not available.”

A combination of state appropriations and tuition increases funded average pay raises of 2.6 percent and 3.2 percent for UW employees the past two years, at the same time state employees are absorbing increases in their contributions to the state retirement system. UW faculty members on average are paid 11 percent less than faculty members in comparator colleges at other institutions, and UW staff members on average are paid 17.3 percent less than corresponding employees in state government.

“The past two salary increases were just a first step in beginning to stem the growing gap between UW salaries and its competitors,” McGinity says.

In an effort to modernize the way UW tracks and reports financial information, the Board of Trustees seeks $2 million over the biennium ($1 million annually) in recurring dollars for personnel to staff a shared business services team of accountants and fiscal specialists. In addition, the budget request calls for $5 million to be set aside in a holding account as a start toward the cost of a new fiscal system, which could approach $15 million.

“Unlike the State of Wyoming’s financial reporting system, the university’s system has not been upgraded and reconfigured to keep pace with the demands of a modern higher education operation,” says the UW budget request narrative.

Last month, trustees authorized a contract of up to $1 million with Huron Consulting Group to evaluate UW’s financial and reporting processes, using a $1 million supplemental appropriation and a match of $750,000 from university sources.

Funding for UW’s Science Initiative makes up a major portion of the university budget request. In addition to $4 million over the biennium in recurring funding for program improvements to lift UW’s foundational science programs to “top-quartile” status, the budget request includes $70 million — to be added to $30 million set aside by the Legislature in the 2015 session — to build a new facility that will contain studio-style classrooms to facilitate active learning, along with state-of-the-art research centers in scientific imaging and biological research.

UW seeks $23 million in one-time dollars to match private donations, continuing a highly successful program that has attracted tens of millions of dollars in private gifts to the university in recent years. Of that, $15 million would go to match research funds in unconventional oil and gas research, carbon engineering and endowments and operating funds in the College of Engineering and Applied Science; $5 million would match private dollars for programs to encourage entrepreneurship among UW students; and $3 million would match private gifts to establish an endowed professorship in water management in the West.

An additional $2 million, one-time request would support research in carbon engineering — converting Wyoming coal into value-added fuel and chemical products.

During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers approved $250,000 in one-time funding for UW to begin planning for acquisition of a new research aircraft. The new UW budget request includes $14.92 million to acquire and equip a new Wyoming King Air Research Aircraft, a key component of UW’s highly regarded Department of Atmospheric Science. The current airplane is 39 years old and is nearing the end of its usable lifetime under Federal Aviation Administration rules.

Also during the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers appropriated a total of $5 million to match private contributions to help UW’s Athletics Department respond to changes in NCAA regulations regarding student-athlete scholarships and benefits, in addition to enhancing recruiting, nutrition and other services to student-athletes. The new budget request seeks to make that $5 million an annual, recurring appropriation, for a total of $10 million over the biennium.

In total, UW trustees approved exception budget requests for $10.66 million annually in recurring funding, $48.9 million in nonrecurring, or one-time, funding, and $85.6 million for capital construction projects.

Other requests for ongoing expenses are:

— $2 million over the biennium ($1 million annually) for operations and maintenance, and environmental health and safety, related to new UW buildings.

— $1.74 million over the biennium ($870,000 annually) to support the Revolutionizing Nursing Education in Wyoming (ReNEW) program, which would allow nurses with associate’s degrees to pursue registered nursing bachelor’s degrees without having to come to Laramie. UW has developed the program in cooperation with Wyoming’s community colleges.

— $387,312 over the biennium ($193,656 annually) to re-establish the master’s degree program in counselor education at the University of Wyoming at Casper, to meet employment needs in the mental health and education fields in Casper and around the state.

— $200,000 over the biennium ($100,000 annually) for wildlife and livestock disease research.

Other one-time and capital construction requests are:

— $4.57 million to replace funding that was removed from the budget for a new building for the College of Engineering and Applied Science, to cover unanticipated costs for the High Bay Research Facility now under construction.

— $4 million to continue renovating classrooms in UW’s aging buildings.

— $3 million for a Level 2 study of a plan to replace UW’s residence halls and dining center, and build a new campus parking facility.

— $3 million for property purchases to allow for construction of the planned Science Initiative facility.

— $2.88 million to replace major elements of UW’s computing and networking infrastructure.

— $1 million to continue upgrading Wyoming Public Media transmitters and translators around the state.

— $1 million to plan for a satellite energy plant for the west part of campus.

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