By Logan Carlson, Marshfield News Herald
Gov. Scott Walker's proposed $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System would continue a decades-long shift of higher education funding from all state taxpayers to students and their families.
And at UW-Stevens Point, state funding would decline over the next two years to an amount not seen since before most of the school's students were born, said Chancellor Bernie Patterson.
"There is clearly a shift in the cost of education from the state to the students," Patterson said. "That's what we have seen over the last several decades, and that trend seems to be picking up speed."
Facing a projected two-year state deficit of $928 million, Walker said he plans to propose a 13 percent reduction to the UW System when he introduces his budget to the Legislature on Tuesday. Walker also announced he intends to keep tuition freezes in place an additional two years and give the UW System some independence from state government that should allow the university to achieve efficiencies.
UW System administrators had asked the state for an additional $95.2 million to help address concerns created by two years of tuition freezes.
A lot remains unknown about the specific effects the proposed cuts will have across the system comprising 13 four-year universities and 13 two-year colleges. Patterson said it would be hard to imagine a situation where the campus could absorb the cuts without layoffs.
"When I finally heard a number, it would be a serious understatement to say I was taken aback," Patterson said. "This is going to be devastating to every campus in the UW System. We're not at the decision point yet, and we're still analyzing the situation, but it's hard to imagine taking (that kind of) cut without some reduction in the workforce. I can't imagine how that would play out any differently."
Back to the 1980s
Whereas state funding made up 53 percent of the revenue for UW System schools in 2003, it made up about 30 percent last year.
According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a national advocacy group for low-income families, most states cut back on higher education spending during the recession. But Wisconsin was one of eight states that continued to cut spending on a per-student basis — by 3.3 percent — during the 2013-14 school year.
Using 2013-14 school year enrollment data from the UW System, a $300 million cut in state support would amount to a reduction of $1,013 per student, per year.
Patterson said he estimates UWSP will see a $6.4 million reduction if Walker's proposal remains unchanged by the Legislature during budget negotiations this spring — a prospect that seems uncertain, with some fellow Republicans expressing concern about the depth of the governor's cuts. If the chancellor's projections hold true, it would mean 14 percent of UWSP's budget would come from state revenue in 2015.
In terms of absolute dollars, UWSP would receive about $30.4 million in 2015-16 from the state, an amount not seen since the 1980s.
Patterson said the university will try to persuade lawmakers to give UWSP the ability to increase tuition by $200 a semester per student to help alleviate bottleneck courses and provide extra student advising.
"The students have done the math, and it's clear to them. Paying an extra $200 a semester is better than another $7,500 a semester to stay to get the courses they need to graduate," he said. "All of this is aimed at getting our students out in a more timely fashion. This will put them out in the workforce sooner."
Student responsibility
It appears as if students are being forced to pay for more than $1 billion in income and property tax cuts Walker approved in the last legislative session, said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.
Shankland also noted that Wisconsin could save up to $500 million if it accepted federal revenue to expand the state's Badgercare program under the Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin is the last state in the Midwest not to accept the federal revenue.
Jon Peacock, executive director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, which is part of an advocacy group called the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said students will face hardships from budget cuts even if tuition holds steady.
"I think that's quite clear. Students and their families are going to be paying more in the long run," Peacock said. "In the short run, lawmakers may freeze tuition as they're cutting the university. Students will pay for that in other ways as university staff are laid off and it gets harder to get into the classes they need to graduate.
"That's a significant price students will have to pay," he said. "We're on a different trajectory (than other states) because this is a self-inflicted wound. It's not a product of the recession. It is a product of relying on overly optimistic projections when lawmakers passed those large tax cuts."
Shared oversight
Student leaders say they are concerned the state might do away with shared governance, the requirement that faculty, staff, and students have a say in important operational decisions at university campuses across Wisconsin.
"That is something they are talking of taking away. It seems undemocratic to me to do that," said Graham Pearce, president of the Student Governance Council, which represents students at the 13 two-year campuses of the UW System, including UW-Marshfield/Wood County and UW Marathon County. "I do appreciate that the Board of Regents have said they will implement shared governance in their own policy if it gets removed from state statute, but it's not as permanent as it would've been if it were in state law."
Pearce also expressed concerns of the cuts' effects on the UW Colleges, following budget reductions made in the past two years.
"That big of a cut, I don't see how that won't affect us substantially and won't be felt by each student in some way," he said. "The UW Colleges in particular are already dealing with some significant cuts from before, and it's safe to say they have