Wednesday, October 19, 2016

UW defunding = higher tuition...and more costs for UW faculty?

While this week's Annual Fiscal Report had a lot of data missing from its Appendix, one bit of information they did have involved information on the funding of the UW System. This showed not only how much state taxpayers gave to the UW, but also how it funded the rest of its operations. Fiscal Year 2015-16 was especially noteworthy since it was the first year of a two-year cut in state aid that was part of the latest state budget, and it continued a trend of deteriorating state support of the UW that started in the 2000s, and has been accelerated since the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began in 2011.

This chart will show how the UW's funding has changed over the last decade. You'll see how state funding went down from 27.0% in 2006 to 23.3% when Governor Scott Walker took office in 2011. But it's even worse now, with state funding dropping all the way to 19.0% after this last year. Federal grants have also declined when it comes to taking up UW costs, while tuition and fees have taken up much of that slack, along with self-supporting entities such as dorms and student unions.

You can see this trade-off between less state funding and more tuition and fees over the last 10 years in this chart, and it especially broke apart once Walker and WisGOP came to power in 2011. And despite Gov Walker's claims of a tuition freeze, you can see that this gap has continued to grow over the 3 years that policy has been in effect.

In addition to trading higher tuition and fees for lower state appropriations, WisGOP’s Legislature and governor also continue to follow the ALEC agenda by defunding the UW System is the hopes of screwing it up by disrespecting those who work there through the loss of take-home pay (via Act 10) and tenure protections. As a result, it is no surprise that much of the UW’s talent base is now more likely listen to offers from other schools. That’s reflected in the figure released this week which shows that UW-Madison had to give out $23.6 million in retention bonuses to its faculty and staff in Fiscal Year 2015-16.

The amount of offers increased markedly from the previous fiscal year, which ended as the Legislature was debating those 2015-17 budget cuts to the UW System, and with those changes in place last year, it made the UW staff an even more inviting target for other institutions.
This much was clear: More retention offers, 232, were made last year, compared to 177 in 2014-2015, according to a new report on retention efforts. But because retention activities are not tracked in a central data base, detailed comparisons of retention costs from year to year were not immediately available, [UW-Madison Provost Sarah] Mangelsdorf said.

And while colleagues at other universities made no secret of the fact that the controversies at UW-Madison over state funding cuts and tenure policy revisions were prompting them to try to lure faculty away, Mangelsdorf said it is not clear how large a factor those issues played in faculty decisions….

Campus officials were successful in 2015-2016 in retaining faculty in 77 percent of cases where they had been offered other jobs and 62 percent of cases where officials made preemptive offers to keep prized faculty members, Mangelsdorf told reporters.

Some $21.7 million paid in retention efforts were one-time expenditures financed through a gift from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Those expenditures included such things as paying for research assistants, remodeling labs or buying equipment.

WARF annually donates money to UW-Madison to support research, and campus officials could say Friday only that the gift was “somewhat larger” last year.
Which means only $1.9 million of the $23.6 million in UW-Madison retention funds actually came from taxpayers, conserving valuable funds that had been cut by Governor Walker and the WisGOP Legislature. UW-Madison was fortunate to have research-based resources like WARF to tap funds from, and to have a large donor base that consistently puts money into ventures like WARF along with other UW-Madison academic and social initiatives.

The same cannot be said at most other UW System schools, which rely more on state aid to pay its faculty and staff, along with keeping the lights on for the classrooms. Those schools are the ones at larger risk in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, as they would likely have to dip into their already-scarce funds to keep the highly-qualified teachers and staff at their institutions, especially as they increasingly become targets from other university systems in states that value their educators and higher education in general.

Also noteworthy is that Manglesdorf mentioned that offers for tenured and tenure-track positions at UW was reduced by over 15% last year. With more money being needed to spend to keep current faculty in light of the disrespect shown to them by the WisGOP-run state government, and less money available from other sources, it becomes much harder for UW-Madison to recruit new talent to work with the people they are already struggling to keep.

With state funding continuing to go down and top faculty continuing to get offers from other places who want to succeed, does this sound like a UW System and flagship school on their way up to you? And do you think that trend will change in any way with as long as the ALEC crew is in charge of things at the Capitol, especially as gifts and other self-support can’t be counted on to continue to take up the slack? Yeah, me neither.


  1. I've been thinking about this a good deal off and on. It seems like our Republican friends make an awful lot of hay out of college costs rising much faster than inflation.

    I'm not so sure, but the numbers aren't easy for me to deal with as I don't have really detailed records of what we paid for things in 1992. There are a few things that stick out in my head, so I'm going to try, admittedly on the fly, to do it here.

    I recall that my lovely bride and I shared a 2 bdrm that we paid about $400/month for. Very nice place. My neighbor was a visiting professor. In looking into the market here in Madison, that place would easily go for $1000 now.

    We bought a ten year old little pickup that year for $2000 with 62,000 miles on it. A similar truck on Autotrader (a 2005 Ford Ranger with 105,000 mi) was $6,000 this morning.

    I used to make a lot of burritos because our neighbor would give us onions and peppers from the garden, and I got pretty good at making tortillas. On a good day, I could get ground beef for $1/pound. $3/pound is a pretty good baseline today.

    I could get a case of cheap beer for about $6. Ballpark that same case at $15 now. Mind you I am talking about cheap beer - sorry. I know you enjoy your libations, but it was what it was on a $600/month TA stipend plus whatever I could make painting on the side.

    With those things in mind as a very, very rough ballpark, I don't think we should be surprised at real life costs being 2.5 to 3 times higher in 2016 than they were in 1992.

    My recollection is that tuition and fees were about $2,200 in 1992, and the UW bears me out.

    Seems like tuition in the ballpark of $6500/year would fit about right. We're looking at closer to $10,500.

    Part of the gap is attributable to the huge spike in health care costs between 1992 and 2016, and the quoted article states that any Act 10 savings from the UW went back to the general fund.

    Add in other items that increased much faster than inflation like energy and IT infrastructure.

    Now look at the drop in state support - in 1992, the state paid about 2/3 of the instructional costs. Now it's about 1/3.

    With those figures in mind, I don't think the UW is doing a terrible job of things.

    I think the state needs to up its contribution to instate undergrads by about $3000 a head.

    Any maybe we'd be closer to a situation where, like in 1992, most young people could get through without big loan balances.

    As an aside, it's unseemly for the state to extract money from the UW through Act 10, dump it back into the General Fund and force the UW to beg for bits and pieces of it back to help retain people who are leaving in part due to the Act 10 and tenure cuts. Maybe I've got the money flow wrong there, but that's the way it reads to me.

    1. Good info, Jeff. As someone who graduated HS in 1992 and got to Madison right after, I can definitely relate to those price differences.

      Your best point is your last- the savings from Act 10 weren't used to restabilize the UW or K-12 or local governments. Instead they were blown on tax cuts and to throw more money into voucher schools and Medicaid (because Walker refused to take the 100% federally-funded Medicaid in Obamacare).