The fiscal plan of the Board for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) would allow, as proposed by the federal entity, the university to have -within the next five years- enough funds to pay its debts and that, as of 2020, the income generated by its own means exceeds the contributions received from the General Fund.
This would be achieved through the increase in costs per credit -which next academic year would double for high school students-, a 10 percent reduction in operational expenses, freezing of employer contributions to the employees retirement plan and the consolidation of campuses, among other measures.
Those 10 percent cuts represent $ 541 million in the next five years, according to the president of the Board, José B. Carrión. However, after the approval of the plan, the head of the university argued that it contains accumulated cuts amounting to $ 809 million.
The plan created by the Board is based on a reduction of $266 million in the allocations that the central government grants to the UPR for the fiscal year 2023, an increase of about $ 110 million in its own income and an increase of $ 218 million in revenues through agreements with government agencies during the same period, as well as in about $ 100 million that the university system should receive from its insurer in order to cover the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
"When comparing this fiscal plan with the plan of March 2017 (made by the university administration), there is more money for bondholders, there is a surplus, when there were no surpluses before, but cuts for the UPR to operate are higher," said economist José Caraballo Cueto.
The measures of the Board would take effect immediately, which is why high school students will pay $ 115 per credit during the next semester. Currently, the credit for graduate studies has a cost of $ 143, which will increase to $ 185 for master's programs and to $ 285 for doctoral programs.
According to the plan, there will be a scholarships fund -to be granted based on family financial needs- to help those students with limited socioeconomic resources. However, the document does not specify how the money will be distributed. Walter Alomar, president of the UPR Governing Board said on Friday that the Board only allocated $ 9 million for the scholarship fund, while the authorities of the university proposed it to be for $ 39 million.
Contrary to what they required to the UPR, the Board did not establish a scale of tuition costs adjusted to the students´ family income.
By press time, no official of the UPR administration was available for an interview on the impact of the certified fiscal plan. Last week, Alomar said they will not give way to measures "that cause a burden too heavy for students and employees."
Last year, the UPR drew up a fiscal plan that was not certified by the Board beforeHurricane Maria. In the first version of that document, the cuts proposed for the University amounted to about $ 512 million for the fiscal year 2025-2026, that was later reduced to $ 241 million.
The plan of the Board establishes that cuts and measures will be implemented to generate new revenues that will total $ 308 million for the UPR by 2023. The document does not detail how these new measures would be implemented, nor does it explain how the income and reduction projections were calculated, pointed out Caraballo Cueto, professor at the UPR Cayey campus.
"What we see is a great contradiction in this fiscal plan. There are many assumptions, as in the fiscal plan of the central government, which are not based on exhaustive scientific studies," expressed the economist, noting that the projection on the number of students that the university will have in the next five years is one of the points that was not explained.
According to the figures of the federal entity, the changes will allow the University to operate on surpluses starting the next fiscal year, but this money will be used to pay the debt and it leads to a budget deficit. Unlike previous financial documents, the fiscal plan certified last week does not mention a renegotiation of the debt of the university system, an issue that has been discussed for more than a year, mainly due to the amount of money that the UPR owes for a loan for the construction of the Plaza Universitaria building, located in front of the Río Piedras campus.
Likewise, cuts are made in the number of administrative, temporary and non-teaching employees. An increase in the number of teaching employees is foreseen, partly because employees in positions of trust will be reclassified as professors.
The president of the Professors’ Association of UPR Mayagüez (APRUM, Spanish acronym) Marcel Castro, said that the cuts imposed on the UPR are higher than those proposed for other government entities. Castro noted that a balance could be made if items included in the central government's fiscal plan are redistributed, such as allocations for the payment of Board advisors and debt service.
"It is even in the interest of bondholders that we move forward, that we have a positive economic development," noted Castro.
The fiscal plan also provides that, to reduce bureaucracy and redundancy in academic offers, ten of the eleven campuses will be consolidated into three "conglomerates", where there will be a main campus and the others will operate as satellite centers, specialized in several academic areas. The general courses will be offered in the campuses that will operate as head of each conglomerate - Rio Piedras, Mayagüez and Cayey - while the other units will offer unique programs.
The document does not detail the savings that will be achieved with this consolidation, however it ensures that it willnot lead to the dismissal of employees because they will be relocated.
Among them, 500 employees from the Río Piedras campus will be transferred to the Cayey campus.
The Medical Sciences Campus will continue as an independent campus, although it will share personnel with Río Piedras.
A preliminary analysis contained in the draft version of the fiscal plan submitted by the UPR, but not contained in the document certified by the Board, explained that 27 percent of the 271 academic programs did not meet the retention and graduation criteria established by the UPR Governing Board. To establish that an academic program is not in compliance, less than 52 percent of first-year students remained enrolled for their second year and more than 25 percent graduated on time.
So far, the names of the academic programs that are not in compliance and that would be at risk of being eliminated have not been officially announced, but the concern is greater among professors from faculties that do not have high demand among students, said Mareb del Rosario, who was a professor in the Hispanic Studies Department at the Río Piedras campus.
"There are programs that cannot be eliminated because they have a specific cultural function. They may not generate money, they are not the most popular, but they preserve the culture, they extend a branch of knowledge, they educate people," said Del Rosario.
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