After being on the brink of losing its valued accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education last year, the entire University of Puerto Rico (UPR) system has regained its accreditation for the next eight years.
According to UPR President Jorge Haddock, all 11 campuses have submitted and completed all the required audited statements and other “show cause” documentation. “This is major for UPR. The Middle States had never seen a situation like that before, all 11 campuses on probation,” he said during an activity with the Rotary Club of San Juan.
Besides receiving this “stamp of approval” on the quality of Puerto Rico’s main institution of higher learning, full accreditation also helps the university gain access to much-needed funds, such as research grants, both from the federal government and private foundations.
The Middle States has raised concerns about the impact of budget cuts on the UPR’s operations and required evidence that “the learning experience has not been compromised,” among other issues. The UPR’s Fiscal Plan addresses these issues and notes that it will seek additional revenue measures through, for example, tuition hikes over time and expanding student enrollment as well as continued education offerings.
According to the UPR’s fiscal year 2020 budget, as certified by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), the system has a total budget of $1.3 billion.
This total includes $559.9 million from the Puerto Rico central government, $65.3 million from slot machine operations; $174.5 million from student tuition; $152.4 million in “campus-generated inflows”; $309 million in “intra-government receipts”; and $40 million in disaster relief receipts.
Haddock said the UPR system’s total budget has received a $400 million cut in the past two years.
By way of comparison, in the past, the central government’s contribution to UPR’s budget was about $900 million a year.
Noting that he is heading the UPR in “challenging times,” Haddock told Rotarians that the system’s 11 campuses, 52,000 students and 4,000 faculty members should be at ease that the university is stable and continuing to provide a quality education.
“Because of federal and university grants, 80 percent of our students do not have to pay tuition. Eighty percent of students are tuition free. What other university can say that?” he asked rhetorically.
Undergraduate tuition at UPR for the current academic year is $124 per credit, compared with $114 per credit the previous year. On average, a student taking 15 credits would pay $1,860 a semester in tuition and other related costs, according to the UPR’s Governing Board.
Calls for more alignment with their stateside counterparts
Still, Haddock has been at odds with the FOMB, which have called for the university to move with the times and resemble its stateside counterparts, especially with regard to revenues. For example, FOMB Executive Director Natalie Jaresko has noted that stateside public universities rely more on tuition rather than state government allocations.
On average, public institutions in the States receive nearly half (46 percent) of their budgets from grants, philanthropy and investment returns. Meanwhile, about 27 percent of their budgets come from state government funds and 18 percent from student tuition.
In contrast, the bulk of UPR’s budget has historically come from the central government and this percentage is currently at 43 percent. Meanwhile, tuition makes up 13.8 percent of the system’s revenues and 23.8 percent from “campus-generated inflows.”
Haddock acknowledged that managing a budget loss of $400 million has not been easy and despite a leaner and more efficient system, he said it is not realistic for the UPR to make up that much money. “The new financial model gives campuses incentives to bring in new sources of revenue. They need to be more entrepreneurial and have a leaner management,” he said. “But $400 million is a lot of money. We could make up some of that through research grants and philanthropy, but I don’t know about all of it.”
Eyes international, Spanish-speaking students to increase enrollment
The UPR president said a big push is being made to recruit international students and Spanish-speaking students from the mainland U.S. This effort includes attracting more students to the university’s business programs, he added.
For example, the UPR recently took part in the biggest college fair in Costa Rica, called Expo U 2019. The event, just a few weeks ago, attracted more than 9,000 students from the Central American country, with about 700 students registering on a digital platform, requesting more information on studying at UPR.
The UPR will now become a regular participant in such college fairs in the U.S. mainland and Latin America. This effort is now doubly important as Puerto Rico’s demographic decline continues.
“Our university is the best option that students have on the island to fulfill their dreams and have a prosperous future. The UPR also represents a great opportunity for international students to study in a prestigious institution, with accredited programs and lower costs. In addition, it allows them to have access to the labor market of the island and the United States,” Haddock said.