University System Takes it on the Chin
University of Wisconsin students will take longer to graduate, run up more debt, and have less access to high-need programs, University officials say. The reason: A state budget that requires the UW System to shoulder a disproportionately large share of the cuts.
The state’s two-year budget that passed last summer cut state support for the UW System by about nine percent, much larger than cuts made to other areas of the budget. In comparison, state support for prisons and other correctional services was cut by only about two percent. The state budget also paved the way for a 5.5 percent UW System tuition increase in each of the next two years, and froze the amount of tuition assistance available.
Now the state is once again making deep cuts to the UW System. The budget directed the state to find new, unspecified savings (also called funding lapses), on top of the specific cuts included in the budget. The Department of Administration has laid plans for $66 million of those additional cuts to come from the UW System over the next two years – including $46 million in cuts that need to be made yet this fiscal year, which ends in June. That means the UW System will in essence have to find a year’s worth of savings in one semester.
These new lapses will hit college students hard, as the UW System is asked to bear a disproportionately large share of total lapse amount. The UW System is expected to absorb 38 percent of these additional cuts, even though the UW System only represents 7 percent of state spending.
The University System has released its plan for dealing with the new cuts. Here are some of the likely effects:
- UW-Milwaukee may have to eliminate more than 100 instructional positions, meaning 6,000 students may not be able to get into the classes they need, and may take longer to graduate;
- Student enrollments will be reduced in high-need programs such as nursing, and math and science teacher programs;
- Funding for small business centers will be reduced, resulting in less support for growing WI businesses;
- Academic advising, tutoring, and job placement services will be reduced; and
- Continuing education programs and outreach efforts will be scaled back, affecting non-traditional adult students.
These new cuts to the UW System aren’t set in stone. Later this month, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will review the allocation of the lapses and could potentially make changes at that time. The full Legislature will not have the opportunity to weigh in on these lapses.
Wisconsin already lags behind the national average in the percent of the population with a college degree. Only 26 percent of Wisconsin residents age 25 years or older have a four-year college degree, compared with 28 percent nationally and 31 percent in Minnesota. UW campuses confer 26,000 undergraduate degrees a year.
If we want Wisconsin to compete in the global economy, we should be working to increase access to higher education, not limit it. These cuts to the UW System will make it harder for Wisconsin to invest in higher education and to boost its share of college graduates.