Story Ideas

Story Idea: Budget Cuts

A Better Way To Budget
Image by Jeff Keen via Flickr

With economic problems abounding all over the US, universities of all types are feeling pressure to tighten their belts and cut where they can. Chances are that at least one of the things they cut will be something a student loves. This is an important story from at least two sides. You should be showing the impact of these cuts on your readership and making sure that the reasoning behind where cuts are made is honest.

There may be extra important elements depending on what type of university you attend. If you attend a public university, a significant hit to the budget may have come from state cuts. Some state universities, like the SUNY system, send their tuition directly to the state legislature, which than regulates how much is sent back via the state budget. For public university newspapers the most important interview may be your local congresspeople.

Don’t automatically assume that everything spent at your university comes from the same place either. Quite a few universities have odd financial structures which may be set up so that the money that regulates academics does not come from the same budget as construction.

  • Who: You need to determine which body regulates your budget, who is responsible for suggesting cuts to individual academic programs (it may not always be the same person) and who is affected by the story. Others worth interviewing may be fired or let go faculty. There may also be a student representative to the body that regulates the budget who would be worth and interview.
  • What: What has been cut from the budget? What programs are suffering? What dollar amount? This is an opportunity to build an infographic, perhaps compare current and future budget dollar amounts with the budget in past years.
  • Where: Where should students be going to lodge a complaint? Where are the programs that are suffering on campus?
  • When: Budget cuts may not be set to go into effect immediately, when do they start applying? When were the decisions made to set the budget? If past budgets were set with an expectation of money in future that turned out to be wrong, when did that happen? When, if ever, will funds return to the programs from which they were cut?
  • Why: Why did the budget cuts happen now? Did the state decrease the amount of money your state is getting? Is enrollment down? Is the endowment suffering in the market? Why did certain programs get cut? Is enrollment or interest low? Have they traditionally done well with smaller budgets?
  • How: How was the budget cut and how were certain elements decided upon to be cut from the budget? Were students represented in any way as part of the process? Were faculty? What was the vote?

Possible Multimedia:

  • Budget graph
  • Video or audio interviews with student who are affected by the cuts
  • Interactive: Show students the budget and give them checks and balances and see if they can balance it themselves.

Follow up or companion story?: Tuition increases.

If you’ve done a story on your university’s budget cuts, leave a link in the comments.

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