(GFR Media)

The Fiscal Plan drafted by the Oversight Board for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) assumes that the university system will experience a consistent drop in students in the next five years, reason on which they rely on in order to establish multi-million dollar cuts in the income and expenses of that institution.

The main cuts are aimed at promoting a complete restructuring of the University in the coming months, but in the short term the biggest blows are aimed at employees; particularly with the elimination of the Christmas bonus, exemptions for courses and employers contributions to the medical plan, among others.

"These are things that were already on the table and we see them strongly in this Fiscal Plan. For academic year 2022-2023, there is drop in students enrollment of more than 20 percent, and the Board’s aim is to have a smaller university, less spending, and this will have an impact on students and employees," said Javier Córdova, national spokesperson of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (AAUP).

According to the numbers shown in the document, the 11 campuses of the university will see a reduction of 9,076 students between 2018 and 2023.

This is a substantial increase in the projections of the federal entity, since in the Fiscal Plan certified in June, there was a drop projected in 6,638 students in five years.

The decrease is based on the reduction of students registered two months ago. The university system has a total of 55,060 students enrolled for this semester. This number represents a reduction of 2,860 students compared to the first semester of the last academic year, that is a 4 percent decrease, according to data provided by the University administration in August.

The drop in students caused a reduction in the income projected for this fiscal year. The Board established that the UPR will receive $ 52.5 million as a result of the increase in enrollment for bachelor students, about $ 4 million less than projected last June.

The reductions in income -both in own funds and in the central government allocations- will lead to a 15 percent cut in the budget of the University for 2023, according to the Fiscal Plan.

Marysel Pagán, students representative before the UPR Governing Board, pointed out the enrollment projections of the Board do not take into account that this year the number of students aspiring to master's and doctorate degrees increased, and that it was not expected and that could continue in coming years.

"There is a question that arose from the beginning, and that is a contradiction within the same plan, and it is that we do not know where the enrollment projections of the Board come from. We are working to give promote the university, increase enrollment, but that does not appear the model presented," argued Pagán.

No UPR administration official was available for an interview by press time.

Walter Alomar, president of the UPR Governing Board, said on Tuesday that the institution has the option of not abiding by the Fiscal Plan because it imposes some measures -such as the reductions in tuition waivers-  that are not necessary to achieve the savings needed.

UPR’s president Jorge Haddock Acevedo, however, maintained in written statements that central elements of the document - among them, the consolidation of campuses in conglomerates - are viable.

In an interview with El Nuevo Día –when he took office last month, Haddock Acevedo said that the budget cuts imposed by the Board "are manageable."

"We will be evaluating with the Governing Board the plan presented by FOMB to ensure that the effect on our students and employees is minimal. We reiterate that a tax plan is a document subject to change and, as we informed to the Board´s executive director, Natalie Jaresko, we are developing an aggressive work plan to generate new sources of income to mitigate the impact of the Fiscal Plan," said Haddock Acevedo on Tuesday.

The next meeting of the UPR Governing Board will be on Tuesday, and the Fiscal Plan  is expected to be discussed there.

An uncertain Plan

There are few details about the consolidation of campuses reflected in the fiscal plans drafted  this year.

Córdova noted that central administration officials recently began visiting the campuses asking on how the administrative restructuring of the units should be carried out.

So far, the only thing that is known is that the 11 campuses will be consolidated into four units: three conglomerates -of three and four campuses- each headed by the Río Piedras, Mayagüez and Cayey campuses, while the Medical Sciences Campus will continue to operate independently.

The consolidation plan must be worked on immediately, as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education requested a report  by December 15, Pagán said. The UPR must also submit its audited financial statements on or before December 31 to Middle States, an agency that keeps eight of the system's units on probation due to questions about its financial stability.

The consolidation of campuses will lead to the elimination of positions, Córdova stressed, although it is still unknown how they will be carried out. The Board did specify that some 300 trusted positions will be eliminated and those employees will continue with  teaching duties.

In total, the Board projected a cut of 2,129 regular positions in the UPR between 2018 and 2023.

"The decisions on how it’s going to be done, how we want the University to transform and move, to consolidate, that is something the university community should participate in. But the Board does not seem to see it that way. They see it as a matter of numbers and figures, of cash, and we do not find much sense in what they present," Pagán said.

She also explained that the Board ignored the adjustments that UPR already implemented to pay the Christmas bonus to its employees and to grant tuition waivers, despite the fact that the fiscal entity ordered its elimination.

The federal entity also ruled that the employer's contribution to employees will be reduced to $ 500 per month this fiscal year, but next year it will decrease to $ 390 for teaching employees and $ 125 for non-teachers.

"Non-teaching employees have the lowest salaries in the university system. It is a tremendous abuse for this sector; it is almost a 40 percent reduction in their income," said Córdova, indicating that they will have to pay more than $ 400 per month to maintain the same health plan coverage.

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