State budget causes waves in higher education

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May 6th, 2015
By Alexandria Zamecnik

Weeks away from leaving the Joint Finance Committee and even being signed into law, the 2015-17 biennial budget is already causing waves in the higher education world.

“If the budget is enacted as proposed, UW-Whitewater would have a budget reduction of $6.42 million each year of the biennium,” according to a press release from Chancellor Richard Telfer on April 6, 2015. “Although not specifically a cut, the budget proposal would also require UW-Whitewater to absorb additional costs of between $1 million and $1.3 million each year, for a total shortfall in excess of $7.4 million.”

Chancellor Richard Telfer said in a press release from February he sees no way for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to reduce its budget enough to handle the massive cuts without layoffs.

Although the press release is from February, the budget situation at the capitol has remained the same. The Joint Finance Committee is still overseeing the budget.

Along with layoffs, the university is expected to witness a “brain drain” or professors leaving their positions at the university to find places where they will be better compensated.

Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said she is already hearing this from universities.

“There is a serious concern for losing teachers,” Ringhand said. “We even hear about vacant spots. People come in and apply and withdraw their application when they realize what’s happening at the campus. There’s poaching going on…It’s getting to be a money game for the teachers.”

President of UW System, Ray Cross, said although universities are in a tough time with losing qualified professors, it will pass.

“We will get through this,” Cross said. “The question is, what will we look like on the other side and how do we help express that to potential candidates, students and graduates? Part of what we’re trying to do is help them understand that this is a good place to live, Wisconsin.”

Although big concerns have been raised among students about the cuts, Allison Strauel, previous president of the College Republicans, said students fail to recognize the numerous benefits of the additional autonomy and public authority status that the UW System would receive along with these cuts.

“The public authority for the UW System will allow it to streamline costs with many things like construction, purchasing, compensation and so many other areas,” Strauel said. “UW System and supporters have desired more autonomy for years and asking for this for a long time. Governor Walkers’ proposal offers them that extra autonomy.”

Strauel also mentioned this isn’t the first time the UW System has been cut.

“For those who don’t remember, democratic governor Jim Doyle actually cut $250 million from the UW System in his 2003 budget,” Strauel said. “Unlike Governor Walker he didn’t provide UW System with the tools to make their budget more accommodating to the cuts.”

Cross recognized those cuts at his open forum on April 30.

“There was a cut in 2003-04 of $250 million, concurrently an 18 percent increase in tuition and in the following year a 13 percent increase,” Cross said. “My argument is those are inversely correlated and related.”

Cross said the cuts this year will also cause an increase in tuition. He has faced criticism for the tuition increases that have already happened.

“When I took this job, I said I am going to be upfront, transparent and honest,” Cross said about the increases. “That is a statement. So now your criticizing me because I’m upfront, transparent and honest.  Second, I sat down with at least a dozen of you and explained we were anticipating these increases for out of state and tuition for non-resident, and graduate tuition.”

Tim Hankes, president of the College Democrats, is an out-of-state student and says he already pays $4,000 more than students who live in Wisconsin. He expects to pay another $1,000 after the budget is passed.

“Students are an investment with unlimited potential to make gains and returns for those investments,” Hankes said. “We’ve all heard the phrase ‘you get out what you put in,’ the same applies for education. We pay taxes to provide resources and support to the future generations of Wisconsin students like us.”

The tuition should be set on the basis of four factors according to Cross:

•What does it cost to deliver, produce and provide programs or courses?
• What does a competitive market look like?
• What are the needs of the state?
•  Affordability

Of the four states he has been to however, the rational tuition setting models have failed.

“Why,” Cross asked. “Because politics intervenes and says ‘I don’t like that.’”

Not all disagree with the budget, Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a press release that he would like to thank Gov. Walker for the giving the Legislature a solid conservative budget that we can now review and work to make even better.

“We have many shared priorities for the state including growing our economy, improving education, increasing worker training and reforming government,” Vos said.  “While there are some initial concerns from our caucus, especially with the level of bonding, I’m confident that by using input from Wisconsin residents and their legislators we will arrive at the best possible spending plan for the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin.”