Monday, March 23, 2015

UW System cuts having an effect, even before they're law

Even though Gov Walker's debilitating budget has yet to be agreed to by the Wisconsin Legislature or signed into law, that doesn't mean the universities in the System aren't already taking steps to deal with the Governor's pose job. An example showed up in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram over the weekend, where UWEC administration has reacted to the proposed cut and other revenue reductions by giving buyout offers to 324 faculty and staff.
The separation incentives, which call for an unspecified number of faculty and staff to receive a one-time payment of 50 percent of their base salary in return for voluntarily leaving the university, represent one tool UW-Eau Claire administrators plan to wield in absorbing a massive projected budget cut.

While the Legislature has not made decisions yet on GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed $300 million reduction in UW System funding over the next two years, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said the time frame is too tight — the new state budget is scheduled to take effect July 1 — to respond after a final budget passes.

UW-Eau Claire is projected to lose $13.74 million in revenue over the next two years, with a $7.6 million decrease next year, under the current formula that divides state funding among universities. That comes after a $4.5 million base reduction the campus already faced from a previous budget cut.

Though Schmidt stressed that he believes cutting higher education funding that much is “terrible public policy,” he told the Leader-Telegram editorial board last week he doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to see how the Legislature might adjust those numbers.
This is the reality of having to run your business while arrogant legislators decide to play around with their funding. In addition to the cuts, another problem is that Gov Walker is proposing to freeze in-state tuition, which causes a double-whammy when funding from the state is being cut at the same time, and costs of everyday operations continue to rise.

So without the revenues and staff, the System can't plan to offer as many classes as normal (this is especially a problem because students have been signing up for Fall classes over the last month), and it jeopardizes other initiatives that the System and the Legislature might want to do. An example is the headline story in today's Wisconsin State Journal, which says that the budget constraints reduces the chances that high schoolers will be able to take classes for college credit next year.
The University of Wisconsin System will no longer cover the cost of a dual-enrollment program for high school students to earn college credit.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports school districts were told by UW System President Ray Cross that they would have to pay for the program next year. The system is facing $300 million in budget cuts in Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget.

The program, which was approved by lawmakers two years ago, allows students to get college credit for high school courses that match classes at UW campuses. About 7,400 students take part in the program...

Cross said districts, which typically partner with one UW System campus, can negotiate lower tuition costs. The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District negotiated a rate of about $30 for each credit with UW-Oshkosh, amounting to a cost of $70,000.

"We had already decided that if something didn't change, we would be unable to offer this option for students next year because the cost would have been at least $350,000," Middleton district spokesman Perry Hibner said.
You can bet a lot of other schools won't be able to get or afford the lower rates that the Middleton district is shelling out for, and so the students in those districts won't be able to get a jump in their college careers. This is especially true because Walker's budget is also set to cut aids of $150 a student for K-12 schools, which is leading to massive deficits across the state, and "extras" such as allowing students to grab college credit will likely be one of the first things to go.

So now we have students entering the UW System with fewer credits and college experience to their name, inevitably making them pay for more credits to graduate, and possibly extend their stay in school for another semester or two. Which means more resources are required to teach more students, but the state is refusing to pay their share of those needs, which means it becomes less likely for pay for high-level instructors and offer required classes for the students when they need them. And then the downward cycle repeats.

And for what? So corporations can get another tax cut that leads to more profit hoarding and rent-seeking. And we end up with more stagnant wage growth for future workers that are generated from a declining UW system? How in the world is this the right direction to take?

This is why I got infuriated when I read the tweets from GOP legislators congratulating UW hoops for making their 4th Sweet Sixteen in 5 years, and propping Stevens Point for winning the Division 3 title. Yeah WisGOPs, it is pretty cool to see our college hoops continue to dance in March, but I'd rather see you sticking up for the 140,000 students and tens of thousands of workers at the universities that house those hoops teams, instead of driving down one of the few economic advantages that this state has.


  1. I'll be curious as to the effect on UW system registration. We are looking at schools out of the state for my current senior and this cut is the reason.

    1. As a two-time UW grad that loves my alma mater and the System, I'd encourage you not to bail on those schools quite yet (especially Madison). But I also completely understand why you would.