UW System budget plan would increase investment by $100 million
By Richard Moore, The Northwoods River
Gov. Scott Walker unveiled this week his UW System budget plan for the 2017-19 biennium, and, as the governor promised, it contains new state funding and a hefty tuition cut.
Walker wants a 5-percent tuition roll back; he said the state would increase its commitment to the system budget by more than $100 million.
"The UW System plays a key role in developing our future work force," Walker said. "Our investment today ensures student success by making college even more affordable, providing greater opportunities for students to earn their degree, and helping to bridge the gap between higher education and our workforce. We want our students to fuel the growth of our economy."
The governor said his proposal would reward UW System institutions based on the number of students who graduate, how long it takes those students to graduate, how many students are employed, and how many are working in high-demand fields throughout the state.
Specifically, Walker's plan would cut tuition for resident undergraduate students by 5 percent, saving students an average of $360 per year, according to the administration's numbers. The governor is proposing a General Purpose Revenue increase of $35 million in the UW System's block grant to pay for the tuition cut, which would be allocated among UW System schools in proportion to the estimated reduction in revenues as a result of the tuition decrease.
The $35 million to pay for the tuition roll back is in addition to the $100 million increase, the governor stressed.
The plan would also require UW-System institutions to provide three-year degree options. Each UW System school would have to outline plans to allow students to complete their bachelor's degrees in three years.
According to the governor, a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo estimates completing a degree in three years could reduce the net cost of a degree by $18,000-$25,000 by reducing tuition costs and increasing earnings.
The plan would provide $700,000 in financial aid for students taking Flex Option courses, and add five new Flex Option programs in high-demand fields. The UW System would have to increase the number of Flex Option programs offered from 10 to 15 by January 2020.
The plan includes one program to train K-12 school workers, such as teacher's aides, to become teachers, and one program to train certified nursing assistants to become registered nurses.
In addition, Walker's budget plan would double the number of core credits that transfer between Wisconsin Technical College System and UW System institutions and provide $42.5 million for performance funding.
The performance funds would have to be distributed among UW System schools based on performance on rankings related to improving affordability and attainability, enhancing work readiness, ensuring student success in the work force, administrative efficiency, service, and two additional criteria to be specified by the Board of Regents, the governor's proposal states.
To ensure transparency in the allocation of performance funding, each institution would publish a "Performance Funding Report Card."
The budget would add $100,000 to support Alzheimer's research at the UW-Madison Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and require the UW Board of Regents to establish a faculty workload policy.
That workload policy plan would have to include policies for monitoring faculty and instructional academic staff teaching workloads, including requirements for individual faculty and instructional academic staff members to report the number of hours spent teaching to UW System administration, the proposal states.
Finally, in an attempt to bridge the gap between higher education and Wisconsin's workforce, the budget plan would require students pursuing a degree from a UW System institution to have an internship or work experience before graduation.
UW System chancellor Rebecca Blank said she was appreciative of the governor's planned new investments.
"The increased funding, including additional funding for the Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program and our internationally recognized Alzheimer's research program, will allow us to continue the important work of providing students with a world-class education and engaging in research that helps grow the economy and improve citizen's health and well-being," Blank said.
But the chancellor said there were a number of policy proposals that needed to be reviewed to determine their impact.
State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), the vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, said the plan would boost average Wisconsin families.
"Gov. Walker has once again proven his commitment to fight for Wisconsin's middle class families by proposing a historic 5-percent cut in resident tuition in the UW System for the 2018-19 academic year," Nass said. "The cut would save the average student $360 a year on top of the more than $6,300 that students have saved during four years of the tuition freeze."
Where the Board of Regents and system administrators have failed to help students and families, Nass said, Walker and Republican legislators had found ways to provide savings for students and lower debt accumulation in obtaining a degree.
But Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), a member of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance, said it wasn't enough, considering that state support for the UW System is the lowest it has been in state history when adjusted for inflation.
She said the governor's proposed new investment was a restoration of but a sliver of monies the governor has taken away in past years.
"Excluding debt service, the UW System has lost $795 million in state aid under Gov. Walker and the Republican majority," Shankland said. "And now, as the governor sets the stage for his re-election campaign, he is restoring a fraction of what he cut from our universities - with strings attached."
Shankland said the deep cuts to the UW have had a devastating impact on faculty retention, course availability, time to degree, and the quality of a UW education.
"Gov. Walker's new proposal essentially serves as an admission that his cuts to our education systems have failed," she said. "He does not deserve praise for making a weak attempt to repair the damage that he himself caused."
One proposal that stirred the pot would allow UW students to opt out of allocable segregated fees.
Allocable fees do not go toward long-term commitments or ongoing operational costs of university owned and controlled buildings, Walker's plan asserted.
"They provide support for campus student activities and services that are allocated by campus student government and university chancellors," the proposal stated. "Allowing an opt-out helps students make the decisions on what they do and do not want to fund."
Nass said that proposal would empower students: "A significant number of students receive no benefit from these programs, but the fees add on unnecessary costs," he said.
The Associated Students of Madison didn't like the plan, though. A spokesperson for the group said the fees provide vital services such as transportation and support for a diverse array of student organizations.
"This proposal is an attempt to undermine student authority over distributing their own fees," Colin Barushok, the chairman of the Associated Students of Madison's Student Services Finance Committee, said. "The transportation budget is one example of where problems may occur. Sixty-eight percent of students at UW-Madison picked up a bus pass last semester. Students depend on access to transportation on our 936-acre campus, and would struggle to get to classes and, eventually, graduate, if they didn't have that option."
Far from empowering students, the plan would have the opposite effect, said Ariela Rivkin, the chairwoman of ASM's Grant Allocation Committee.
"Allocable segregated fees are the number one way we empower our students," Rivkin said. "I have approved upwards of 600 grants on this campus, and in them I have seen a stunning showcase of passionate and diverse opinions. This proposal takes all that work, along with our ability to empower that passion, and throws it out the window."