On the chopping block: $250 million cut to UW System means $5.8 million loss for UW-W

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By Kimberly Wethal

News Editor

Emily Lepkowski

Staff Editor

While the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater didn’t lose the most money when the state budget was finalized (UW-Madison shouldered the largest loss with a reduction of $52.8 million), UW-W saw the amount of state assistance for educational purposes drop by 38 percent, the highest in the UW System.

The 38 percent reduction left UW-Whitewater with only $9.5 million in state assistance, when in the previous academic year, the state had chipped in $15.3 million, leaving a $5.8 million deficit to make up. 

Before the state budget made its way through the Joint Finance Committee and the state legislators, the UW System’s cuts looked much more bleak – the original proposed cuts to the system were at $300 million.

UW-W would have picked up $6.4 million of that share, had the revised budget not returned $25 million to the UW System over the two-year period.

Increasing UW-W’s enrollment numbers for the 2016 academic year would allow for the budget deficit to be diminished, but with no designs for a new residence hall, which was written into the state’s 2013 budget, it’ll be tougher to find places for those students to live.

As of the beginning of this year, there was already approximately 180 students living in residence hall lounges.

While UW-W is able to provide an education to students despite the lost revenue, it’s at the expense of budget cuts in each of the colleges, less faculty and staff on campus and higher tuition for nonresident students.

Faculty will also have to pick up the slack of their 40 missing colleagues from around the campus, and will have a reduction in benefit pay.

As of now, students may not pick up on any differences other than the missing faculty members, but Jeff Arnold, vice chancellor for Administrative Affairs, said it’s too early to see what might happen in the future.

“There are going to be situations when we’ll just have fewer bodies in a department because of retirements and the budget reduction,”  Arnold said. “I don’t know what the downstream effects of that will be.” 

By the numbers

With the 2015 state budget passed by state legislators, the cuts calculated for UW-W added up to $5.8 million out of a total budget of $219.3 million.

While the ratio of the cuts versus the total budget looks unnerving at first glance, the $5.8 million dollar slash in funding has resulted in a 38 percent cut in state funding for educational purposes.

Much of the total budget can’t be used to remedy the problem. Fifty-two percent of the budget comes from federal funding, along with gifts, grants and student housing costs set aside for specific purposes, leaving $114.2 million generated by the state and tuition for the university to work with.

Some of this remaining money is also unable to be worked with, because of what it’s supplied for; $19.1 million goes to funding for debt services, graduate student financial aid and utilities.

During the 14-15 academic year, the education funding from the state was at $15.3 million and resulted in a total education budget of $95.1 million when student tuition was factored in. With the latest budget, state support has been reduced to $9.5 million.

Arnold says UW-W is the most fee-dependent university in the UW System, with student tuition accounting for 90 percent of the education budget. UW-W will be collecting $84.8 million in tuition for the academic year. 

Originally, tuition would have totaled $79.8 million, but a $5 million tuition budget adjustment that helped raise the amount of money available. Included in the adjustment was the raise in the  cost of attendance for non-resident students by $250 a semester, and a boost in graduate tuition by increasing it by 2 percent.

The $9.5 million in state support, combined with the $84.8 million in tuition fees resulted in a net  amount of $94.3 million for the 15-16 academic year, down from the previous year’s $95.1 million.

The budget proposed by Gov. Scott Walker in February 2015 originally planned for the UW System would have been split up into $150 million annually. It was anticipated that UW-W’s share could work out to $6.4 million, along with a fringe benefits reduction of $1,005,800.

The revised budget passed on July 12, however, reducing the cut to $250 million, giving UW-W $1,277,000 back from the original proposal. The biennial budget also returned $339,300 of the  cut fringe benefits, bringing back $1.6 million in all. 

In order to make up the $5.8 million cut, the $5 million tuition budget adjustment was implemented to make up for it. The increased student tuition brought the deficit down by $800,000. Retiring faculty and vacant positions were a factor in allowing $4,079,256 to be cut from UW-W’s permanent base budget.

The remainder of the cut, totaling $929,944, will be addressed by dipping into cash reserves to be dealt with in the 16-17 academic year.

Limited space

Arnold says UW-W would like to grow its way out of the budget cuts.

Following the trend of record enrollment, Arnold said adding another 100 students for the 16-17 academic year would bring an additional $800,000 to help balance out the budget.

That way, only about $130,000 would have to be pulled out of cash reserves.

UW-W can grow academically, Arnold said. The current class schedule has the majority of classes being crammed into the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. time frame during the day, but said it can expand to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. if necessary.

It won’t even be a challenge to get more students enrolled. The number of applications to UW-W has raised from 6,309 to 7,222 in the past five years. Record enrollment has allowed the university’s population to rise by 1,390 students in the past decade, and there’s a plan in place for the university to increase its students by 1,700 in the next 10 years.

What’s harder, however, is growing the university when it comes to the availability of student housing.

Due to residence hall renovation and lack of available space, the freshman class size was capped for this academic year at 2,150 students, and there was no room to house 75 transfer students.

The budget cuts have also led to less rooms, at higher rates.

University Housing Director Frank Bartlett said while the university strives to keep housing costs “as low as humanly possible,” the room rates went up 1 percent this year.

Technology might also be impacted on campus and in the residence halls in the next years, with a hold being placed on the hire of a technology position within the University Housing department, Bartlett said.

Retaining student experiences

Students might find themselves only staying in the classroom and looking at the same people from day to day, because budget cuts will keep them there.

College of Letters and Sciences dean David Travis said that because of the budget cuts to each college, there’ll be less room for activities, guest speakers and out of class experiences during this budget cycle.

“We’re having to operate in the same fashion with less money,” Travis said. “Any extra things we do outside of class for students such as field trips or bringing speakers are all things we’ve had to cut back on.”

Each college had to take a respective share of the budget cuts based on the number of students in each college and the needs of their programs.

Together, the four undergraduate colleges lost a collective $1.8 million.

The College of Business and Economics lost $580,000 the College of Education and Professional Studies will be functioning with $303,000 less and the College of Arts and Communication took a hit of $259,800.

The College of Letters and Sciences took the biggest hit, losing two-thirds of a million dollars overall.

The cuts to each college’s operating budget will result in higher class sizes and less class sections, along with a decrease in field trips and hands-on experiences offered during lectures and labs.

Arnold stated the university will not hesitate to hire new faculty, however, in order to accommodate a growing program.

Where you come from also matters when it comes to the implications of the budget, as nonresident tuition was raised by $250 a semester, and graduate tuition saw an increase of 2 percent. Resident students won’t see a raise in the cost of attendance, because of another tuition freeze written into the budget.

Arnold says if cuts to the UW System keep occurring, frozen tuition will no longer be feasible, since 90 percent of the budget for educating students comes from tuition, making UW-W the most fee-dependent university in the system.

Avoiding incentives

Chancellor Beverly Kopper announced during her State of the University address in August that there were no plans for layoffs or early retirement compensation, saving UW-W from those costs. Some of the other campuses in the UW System took a hit with early retirement payouts, Arnold said.

“We didn’t need to find additional retirements or vacancies so there was no incentive for us to offer an early retirement package,” Arnold said.

Those vacancies total 40, with the majority of them not being replaced unless the absence will hinder the way UW-W functions. For the majority of the departments on campus, that means taking on extra responsibilities and teaching extra class sections, with little to no extra payment for doing so.

Another impact of the budget: there’ll be a severe lack of meaningful raises during this budget cycle, which Arnold says will make it harder to recruit applicants in order to replace those who left important positions open.

Faculty may not take any salary cuts, but a reduction of benefits and higher co-pays will take less money out of their pockets in the long run.

It’s too early to see the downstream effects of the vacant faculty positions

While Arnold says the 40 vacant positions is the biggest loss from the budget cuts, he still insists the budget crisis should be looked at in a positive light.

He says it shows the strength of our university.

“I think Whitewater is in a better position than other institutions in the UW System because our enrollments are growing,” he said.

UW-W College Deans Discuss Additional Affects Of The State Budget Cuts

The College of Arts and Communications dealt with the cuts “very carefully.”

In total, a little over 2.58 full- and part-time instructor positions were affected with no changes to active teachers.

College of Arts and Communications Dean Robert Mertens said all of the college’s faculty had a part in deciding how to manage the reductions, instead of a few people making the decisions.

“Given the uncertainty, the campus has done a really careful job of trying to move forward deliberately,”  said Mertens.

There have been no class cancellations and student initiatives are moving ahead as planned, just at a slower rate than preferred.

Although things may be slowed down, faculty in the Arts and Communication department are work to “preserve high student learning,” Mertens said.

The College of Business and Economics lost more money because of higher enrollment, but has the means to make up the deficit.

“We’ve been able to maintain basically everything that was going on in the classroom,” said Dean of Business and Economics, John Chenoweth.

Despite losing one position to retirement, the cut was in the professional staff and not the classroom.

The college is also not able to add faculty members to support the growing student population, a common trend of the budget reduction.

With an average growth of about five percent, some long term concerns include growing the faculty side as well as building and providing new space on campus.

“The reality is with whatever money we get, we solve the problems the best we can,” said Chenoweth.

The biggest college at UW-W will also be working with a limited budget.

While the College of Letters and Sciences has seen slight increases in class sizes and reductions in the variety of classes offered, Dean David Travis ensures it is nothing widely felt by students.

“ Overall I think we can manage but what we can’t handle is any additional cuts,” said Travis.   “We’ve been able to manage this pretty well.”

Other losses to students include opportunities outside of class such as guest speakers and field trips.

Like other colleges, the dedicated faculty are relying on each other to step up where there are vacant positions and faculty shortfalls.