MILWAUKEE — There is no viable substitute for adequate, stable state support for public higher education in Wisconsin, the UW System Board of Regents has concluded in a year-long study, finalized by the board at its meeting Friday in Milwaukee.
“Additional cuts to (the UW’s) base budget can only result in fewer instructors and reduced enrollments – there can be no other outcomes,” according to the report, titled “Charting a New Course for the UW System.”
The report, piloted by former Regent President Guy Gottschalk, reflects a year of work and the input of hundreds of people who identified and assessed challenges to, and opportunities for, public higher education in Wisconsin.
“We have taken a look at all of the possible actions for self-help and we did identify a number of items we can implement to make the university system more efficient,” Gottschalk said. “However, we found no magic bullet – there is no way to adequately offset further state budget cuts such that they will not hurt our students,” he said.
“Wisconsin needs our graduates more than ever and the UW remains committed to helping improve the state’s economy,” he said. “We need to work together for the future of Wisconsin.”
“We timed this report so that it would contribute to our crafting of a UW System budget for 2005-07, the budget to be finalized by our board later this summer and then submitted to the Governor as he develops the state’s biennial budget,” said Regent President Toby Marcovich. “The study makes a strong case for stable and strategically targeted state investments in higher education and for bureaucratic changes that will make the university more efficient.”
The report’s 27 specific recommendations are intended to preserve student access, educational quality and service to Wisconsin while making the UW System more efficient and effective. They include:
- Providing additional student financial aid to avoid pricing low-income Wisconsin families out of higher education;
- Changing the way the UW System is permitted to do business, in areas such as capital building projects, purchasing and risk management;
- Increasing funding for diversity initiatives to improve the UW experience and more closely mirror the state’s citizenry;
- Giving the Board of Regents the authority to set competitive salaries, better manage unclassified positions and restore faculty positions for better instructional quality; and
- Investing in information technology for both learning and research purposes.
There are serious and sustained national trends that threaten the quality of public higher education across the country, including significantly reduced state support and growing demand for student access, according to the report.
“Wisconsin finds itself buffeted by these same forces,” said UW System President Katharine C. Lyall. “But being part of the crowd is no consolation. Wisconsin’s public higher education partnership with the state needs to get back on track.”
“I applaud the board, and especially Regent Gottschalk, for the time and energy they have put into this project – it will provide critical guidance to the new president of the UW System,” Lyall said. “I think it already has opened up new channels of constructive dialogue between the university, the Governor and state legislators.”
The report was the result of a year-long study by the Board of Regents, in collaboration with students, faculty and staff, campus and system administrators and others. Study participants reviewed potential sources of revenue, and examined areas for increased efficiency and ways that new technologies can improve education. The report’s recommendations are divided into three categories:
- Self-Help – actions the UW System can take to maintain access and quality and improve efficiency;
- State Help Needed – actions the state can take to maintain affordability and access for students; and
- Joint Efforts – requiring both UW System and state actions.
The study calls for a “hold harmless” program, providing grants to students from the lowest income levels to offset the costs of any tuition increases. “We find a disturbing trend: fewer and fewer of our low-income students in Wisconsin are enrolling in UW institutions,” the report states. In 1992, 36.3 percent of new UW freshmen were from the two lowest family income quintiles. In 2002, that figure dropped to 21.1 percent.
Another negative trend noted in the study is the net loss of 670 faculty positions during the past decade, undermining classroom quality as well as the UW’s ability to land federal grants and provide public services. The study recommends hiring 300 new faculty over the next several years “to preserve educational quality and address strategic research areas.”
The report emphasizes that the UW System must do more to preserve and utilize its high quality faculty and staff; provide competitive pay plans; and continue to address problem areas with flexible positions funded with non-state dollars.
The study outlines a series of management flexibilities that, if authorized by state policymakers, could greatly improve the System’s ability to function efficiently. They include:
- Streamlining the overly burdensome and time-consuming capital building program, saving both time and significant dollars in the construction and planning processes;
- Allowing the UW to save money by purchasing goods and services directly through the marketplace and through university consortial buying groups such as the Big Ten;
- Giving the UW the authority to manage its own cash and make investments (currently done by the state Department of Administration); and
- Permitting the UW to retain and reinvest the proceeds from the sale of buildings or lands that are acquired or built with non-state tax dollars (such as gifts and program revenues).
By endorsing the report, the Board of Regents indicated its support for moving ahead with the Self-Help items, including:
- A pilot program at UW-Platteville, targeting out-of-state student recruitment to meet Wisconsin workforce needs;
- A re-examination of tuition charged to out-of-state undergraduate students to identify more competitive rates;
- An evaluation of alternative tuition models that can affect student behavior;
- Efforts to help students more efficiently earn credits and degrees;
- Streamlining administrative services;
- Programs to promote collaboration across the system, to attract more federal research funding and to assist Wisconsin businesses and local governments; and
- Alternatives for increasing the number of nursing students.
The final section of the report details a series of “Joint Efforts” recommendations that depend on the support and collaboration of the state, the Wisconsin Technical College System or others. These recommendations include:
- Expanding diversity initiatives, with more emphasis on K-12 pre-college programs and a focus on Milwaukee schools and their students;
- Partnering with the Wisconsin Technical College System to expand post-secondary opportunity for adult students and enhance credit transfers;
- Establishing a Wisconsin Research Opportunities Fund to increase federal grants by matching funds for federal and/or business research partnerships; and
- Developing Educational Quality Grants to promote fundamental changes in teaching, student learning and organizational systems.