Thursday, June 20, 2019

What Did the Middle States See?

By on April 4, 2019

(Screen capture of www.upr.edu)

UPR Campus Reports Emphasize System is Financially Viable, Relies on Increased External Funding, Tuition Hikes to Operate

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the April 4-10, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

In March, the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) 11 campuses were granted a reprieve from their “show cause” process with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Part of that process was to defend why the campuses should remain accredited by submitting show cause reports and a Teach Out Plan to the accreditation group.

Although the university’s status responds to noncompliance in instructional planning and available resources on a systemic level, the reports and Teach Out Plans were separately produced but shared some information. Given that the noncompliance status is primarily related to questions over institutional planning and resources, a bulk of the reports are devoted to proving the university system is financially viable by presenting cost-reduction and revenue-enhancing measures to offset reductions in government allocations that drop from 70 percent of the total UPR budget to 40 percent by 2023, according to the UPR Fiscal Plan.

The UPR mentioned the same measures as appeared in the fiscal plan, which relies heavily on increased external funding, such as federal grants, and additional revenue from tuition, through hikes in per credit costs and fees, and expansion of the afternoon and distance education programs. Another topic addressed in the reports was the university’s audited financial statements, whose delays originally triggered the institution’s noncompliance status with Requirement Affiliation 14. However, at its March 14 meeting, the MSCHE determined the UPR had met this requirement.

Regarding the content of the university’s financial statements, the campuses all provided the same summary, arguing that the UPR is a viable operation despite experiencing a $188 million reduction in government allocations over the past two years. The campuses explained there is concern over the institution’s future stability, given its dependency on the central government.

As for the delays to submit their financial statements, all campuses again provided similar responses, citing the system’s complexity, the lack of electricity following Hurricane Maria and the 2017 student strike.

The Mayagüez and the Medical Sciences campuses were highlighted by Ernst & Young as particularly problematic with regard to producing their financial statements. Neither campus explained their respective delays but included the stoppage as one of the reasons despite not having participated.

Costly retirement

As for the UPR Retirement System, the reports argue that the current defined benefits plan is too costly, but do not provide documentation or mention the system’s actuarial reports, which calculate that the defined contribution plan would leave the system insolvent.

As for the consolidation of campus administrations, the reports take different approaches. The current proposal is for the campuses in Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamón, Carolina, Cayey, Humacao, Ponce and Utuado to be grouped into western and eastern conglomerates, and that the Río Piedras, Mayagüez and Medical Sciences campuses remain as independent units.

Most campuses simply inserted the same description in their proposals but Mayagüez and Medical Sciences pushed for more autonomy.

The Medical Sciences Campus report says more autonomy “will give [the campus] a level of administrative and academic flexibility that will help the institution more successfully navigate within these currents.”

Another area that has the campuses working as separate institutions, as opposed to units under one system, is the Teach Out Plans, which documents the academic and administrative processes if a campus loses its accreditation.

On one side are such campuses as Aguadilla and Mayagüez, which already have Teach Out agreements with Pontificia Universidad Católica, some Universidad Interamericana and Universidad Ana G. Méndez campuses as well as other stateside universities.

Accepting the possibility that accreditation may be granted to some but not to all UPR campuses, the Teach Out plans also include agreements between campuses.

On the other side are such campuses as Arecibo and Río Piedras, which have no agreements and have argued there is no equivalence—in the region, in Arecibo’s case; and for the island, in the case of Río Piedras.

“In our country, there is no comparable institution, in terms of academia, research and cost to study, to the Río Piedras campus. …Closing the campus would force most of our students to leave the country and primarily move to other universities in the United States and Europe, and paying higher tuition rates than what are currently offered by the Río Piedras campus,” reads the UPR-Río Piedras Teach Out Plan.

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