Making Money Stretch

Once again, as if the words of the history books have come back to haunt us, the United States has found itself in recession.

Despite the numbers and worries, Sam Houston State University is planning to ride out the economic storm, keeping its doors open, and welcoming all hope against unemployment.

The net job loss has reached over 578,000, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the unemployment rate has risen from 7.2 to 7.6 percent from Dec. 2008 to Jan. 2009. Payroll employment has declined by 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007; about one- half of this decline occurred in the past three months.

“In January, job losses were large and widespread across nearly all major industry sectors,” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in an article on Feb. 6, 2009.

According to the Chairman of the Economic and International Business Department, Donald G. Freeman, the recession could affect SHSU in a variety of ways.

“It could have mixed effects,” Freeman said. “Traditionally during a recession college enrollment will go up. People are unemployed so they will look at the cost of education, or they will see education as a way to enhance their employment opportunities, and they also have a little more time on their hands so it’s a good time to improve their skills.”

However, Freeman said with the potential severity of the current recession the effects could be felt differently than in the past.

“This time though with the severity of the downturn we may not see the kind of increases that we’ve seen in the past,” Freeman said. “Colleges become a more expensive proposition so what may happen, what I expect to happen, is a big increase in community college enrollment. ”

Historically the university and Huntsville have been less vulnerable to the swings of the economy, thanks to a localized economy and strong employment from the government through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and SHSU.

“Huntsville obviously has as a base [in] the university and the prison system, and traditionally university enrollments are at least stabled up during in a recession,” Freeman said. “The numbers sited are national numbers; the numbers here in Texas are not as bad.”

Economic hardships are nothing new to the university, which was established in 1879 and survived both the Great Depression and the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s. During the 1930s, SHSU President Harry Estill took a cut in his pay to keep the doors of the school open.

While nothing quite as drastic appears to be immediately necessary, the university is looking at possible steps to take to help conserve money in a tightening economy.

“We already got some indications that the budgetary policy at the state level will be pretty tight this year, [but] these things are really hard to predict,” Freeman said. “I would anticipate that whatever salary increases are forthcoming will be probably less then they have been in the past simply because the state legislature will probably not appropriate as much money. I don’t anticipate any pay-cuts, I will say that. That would be a highly unusual circumstance.”

“Texas is a little better off then many of the other states. We’ve been cushioned somewhat by the diversified nature of our economy, and also by the fact that we didn’t see the big boom in housing prices that some of the other states saw,” Freeman said. “We are going to have a rough ride, we being the state economy, but the university will be okay. Doesn’t mean we won’t have to tighten our belts a little bit and we may have to find some ways to save money but we are good shape.”

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