Belt-Tightening by Universities May Erode Academic Offerings

THE financial crisis that seized colleges and universities in the early 1990s is beginning to recede, according to a report by the American Council on Education (ACE).

At the same time, restructuring prompted by recent fiscal constraints is certain to have long-lasting effects, says Elaine El-Khawas, a vice president at the Washington-based ACE and author of the report.

Ms. El-Khawas surveyed more than 400 academic administrators at both public and private institutions of higher education. Although more colleges saw their budgets increase slightly this year, financial pressures continue to affect many schools, particularly public universities. State funds now make up just half of the operating budgets of public institutions, down from nearly 57 percent just five years ago.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said monitoring of expenditures has tightened in response to financial concerns. Seventy-one percent have increased scrutiny of academic programs.

``Reorganization and redirection may be the defining themes of the 1990s for American higher education,'' El-Khawas says. ``On the negative side, this may result in a reduced range of academic offerings and an erosion of student services. Overall, however, we can expect colleges and universities to be `leaner and meaner' as they move toward the 21st century.''

Officials at private institutions are concerned about two effects of financial pressures: increased reliance on tuition dollars to bolster general funds, and the pressing need for student financial aid.

Declining enrollment is also fueling administrators' concerns. Four in 10 institutions reported loss of enrollment as a key challenge, the report says.

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