An Updated Summary of the Proposed Budget for Higher Education


September 12, 2017

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Wisconsin state lawmakers have proposed a higher education budget that continues a tuition freeze at the University of Wisconsin System. The budget approved by the Joint Finance Committee includes a small increase in state support for the UW System, distributing the funding based on how individual campuses perform on a set of outcome measures. The budget does not roll back significant budget cuts to the UW System or the technical college system that lawmakers have made in recent years.

The proposed budget next moves to both houses of the legislature for final legislative approval, then on to the Governor for his signature. Although the legislature and the Governor can still make changes to the budget before it is finalized, major changes to the education budget after this point in the process are unlikely.

Extending a UW Tuition Freeze, with Little Relief from Past Cuts

Change in spending on higher educationThe legislature’s budget committee has proposed continuing the freeze on UW tuition another two years. If the proposal is enacted, 2018-19 would mark the seventh straight year without an increase in resident undergraduate tuition at UW campuses. Governor Walker had originally proposed reducing UW tuition by 5%, but the budget committee did not include that proposal in the revised version of the budget.

The budget committee has proposed adding $26 million in the second year of the budget in new performance-based funding for the UW System, to be distributed among the campuses using a set of criteria. The criteria include expanding student access, improving student progress and completion, expanding contributions to the workforce, and enhancing operation efficiency. Currently, the Board of Regents distributes state support to UW campuses based on the previous year’s budget, making adjustments as necessary or desired. The budget committee also recommends adding $5 million in the first year of the budget to increase enrollment in high-demand fields.

The proposed budget also continues a requirement that the state’s technical college system allocate 30% of general state support to districts based on a performance funding formula, tweaking the set of criteria to be used. Most general state support to the technical college system is distributed using a separate formula that accounts for differences in property values among districts, giving more state aid to districts with less capacity to increase local property tax support.

This budget proposal would not do much to roll back the severe budget cuts that lawmakers made to the state’s higher education systems in recent years. The amount of General Purpose Revenue (GPR, or general tax dollars) that the budget committee recommends spending on the UW System in the 2017‑19 budget period represents a drop of 12% from the 2009-11 budget period, after taking inflation into account — with the tuition freezes contributing to the loss in funding.  The recommendation for spending on the technical college system represents a 16% percent drop from the 2009‑11 budget period in GPR dollars.

State lawmakers propose increasing the amount of financial aid available to Wisconsin students attending college in the state by $15 million, a 7% increase.

Other Changes to Higher Education

The budget proposal includes the following additional provisions that would affect higher education:

  • Eliminating the board that regulates for-profit colleges, and shifting that responsibility to another part of state government.
  • Increasing by 25% the number of programs offered under the UW’s Flexible Option Program, which is aimed at providing educational opportunities to adults who have some college credit and significant work experience. Lawmakers did not propose allocating new resources to the UW System to fund this expansion;
  • Providing $5 million in one-time grant money to technical colleges for workforce training programs, as part of a larger workforce-training effort;
  • Providing $2 million a year starting in the second year of the budget for the state’s workforce development agency to expand early college credit offerings for high school students; and
  • Providing $3 million for a policy center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, named for former Governor Tommy Thompson. Lawmakers have said that the center could offset what they perceive as a liberal slant on campus. University leaders have said the center would be viewed more credibly if its board were nonpartisan or bipartisan, instead of largely appointed by Republican lawmakers.

Tamarine Cornelius