Summary of the Governor’s 2019-21 Budget for Higher Education

March 25, 2019

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Governor Evers has proposed a budget that increases resources for higher education, addresses maintenance needs, and makes college more affordable.

New Resources for the University of Wisconsin System

The University of Wisconsin System would get a 5% boost in state support in the first year of the two-year budget, followed by an additional 1% the second year.

New resources for the UW System include:

  • $50 million over two years to freeze undergraduate tuition and provide additional state support to UW to make up for the loss of tuition revenue. This approach stands in contrast to the approach taken by the prior administration, which also froze tuition but did not provide the UW System with additional resources to mitigate the loss of revenue;
  • $45 million increase in general funding to develop Wisconsin’s workforce and improve student success;
  • $10 million in new resources to help UW recruit and retain nursing faculty;
  • $5 million to support student services at UW Colleges; and
  • $4 million to provide 20 positions at UW-Extension to provide research and expertise to farmers, individuals, and local governments.

The budget also approves a $187 million increase over two years in student fees that the UW Board of Regents passed earlier.

Governor Evers’ budget includes just over $1 billion in large building and maintenance projects across the UW System, including $506 million in borrowing that will be repaid with general tax dollars, $393 million in borrowing that will be repaid with tuition dollars, and another $175 million paid for with private donations and other sources. The projects include a new chemistry building for UW-Milwaukee, a science and health science facility at UW-Eau Claire, and improvements to the campus-wide fire alarm system at UW-Parkside.

The committee that recommends building projects voted on party lines against all of the capital improvements that Governor Evers proposed, including new buildings and upgrades at the UW System. Lawmakers may still choose to include some UW building projects in the budget by adding them later in the budget process.

A Small Increase for the Technical College System

The technical college system would get about a 1% increase in state support in both years under the Governor’s budget. The new resources would go towards providing additional student services and increasing the number of individuals receiving occupational education and training.

Technical colleges get about a quarter of their revenue from property taxes. Currently, technical college districts may increase the amount of property tax they take in only to account for the change in the district’s property value due to new construction. Governor Evers’ budget would allow districts to increase property tax revenues by either 2%, or the change in property value due to new construction, whichever is greater. This would allow districts in slow-growing areas of the state to bring in additional revenue.

Making Higher Education More Affordable

Governor Evers’ budget would open doors to opportunity by reducing the cost of higher education in three ways:

  • Provide an additional $17 million in need-based grants to Wisconsin students pursuing their education at public or private colleges and universities in the state. This would bring down the cost of attending college for students with low incomes, and reduce barriers to opportunity for students of color;
  • Allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates if they graduate from a Wisconsin high school, live in the state for at least three years before that, and commit to filing an application for a permanent resident visa. Currently, undocumented youth who grow up in Wisconsin and attend the University of Wisconsin or technical college must pay out-of-state tuition rates. The result is that undocumented youth are charged tuition rates that can be more than three times as high as students who are citizens, putting higher education out of reach for most; and
  • Creating a committee to plan for the creation of a state-run student loan refinancing authority, with the goal of introducing an authority in the governor’s next budget. Nearly three-quarters of students graduating from the UW System have debt, with an average burden of about $30,000. This first step could particularly improve access to higher education for black students, who come from families with lower incomes than white students and have access to less in the way of family wealth, leaving borrowing as one of the few methods available to finance their education. The black-white difference in student loan debt grows over time, in part because race-based pay gaps result in lower pay for black college graduates and make it harder for them to pay down debt.