MADISON – Wisconsin citizens do not want state lawmakers to cut funding for the University of Wisconsin System any deeper than levels proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle, according to a recent poll.
In a random sample of 601 Wisconsin residents across the state, 55 percent of those surveyed said the governor’s $250 million cut to the university in the proposed 2003-05 state budget was “too much.”
When asked if the UW System should take one-third of the governor’s proposed cuts when it comprises less than 9 percent of the state budget, 61 percent of respondents said that was “too large.”
Other results show that 81 percent of those surveyed said they would rather see the UW System maintain quality instead of “keep student costs down,” if a choice was necessary when cuts are made to the university budget.
And in response to a question about the number of UW campuses in the state, 76 percent said that the current 26 campuses was about the right amount. In fact, 10 percent of those polled said there were too few campuses.
“I am heartened by the strong public support for the UW System, and due to the work of the Board of Regents and our chancellors, I think the public understands the importance of the university to Wisconsin’s future economy,” said UW System President Katharine C. Lyall. “We must protect that capacity as much as we can as we move to implement state budget cuts to our campuses over the next couple of years.”
The poll was conducted in late February and early March by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center in Madison. The center conducts research for public and private organizations at the local, state and national levels, including the well-known Badger Poll for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Capital Times.
The poll was conducted with standard survey research methodology similar to that used in various statewide surveys, including the Badger Poll, according to the UW Survey Center. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.
When asked to estimate UW resident undergraduate tuition, not including room and board, 72 percent of those polled guessed higher than the actual cost, which averages about $3,800 per year throughout the UW System. Forty-four percent estimated that tuition cost more than $6,000 annually, and 19 percent said they thought tuition cost more than $10,000 a year.
When queried about tuition hikes proposed in the governor’s budget ($350 per semester at the doctoral campuses and $250 per semester at all other UW campuses), 56 percent thought they were “about right.”
As reflected in the poll, the public recognizes the importance of the UW System to the state’s economy. Virtually all respondents (97 percent) agreed that having a strong UW System is vital to the state’s economy. In addition, 77 percent agreed that big cuts to the UW System now may save the state money in the short run but will cost more in the long run because of lost opportunities to students and slower economic growth.
Other results include: 94 percent of state residents support UW research to make businesses more competitive; 95 percent want the university to ensure that students can get an affordable education; 88 percent believe access for students to a UW education is important; 79 percent want university access close to home; 79 percent believe it is important for the UW System to help solve state problems.
Not all of the poll’s findings were positive, according to the survey results. One negative finding was the perception of the university’s efficiency. Those polled ranked the UW’s efficiency above other universities but below business and industry. The poll suggests the public recognizes that universities are labor-intensive enterprises.
According to national data, the UW System is the country’s most efficient university system, spending about half the national average on administration.
Other findings from the poll include that the UW System and K-12 public education fared well against other interests competing for state dollars. When asked if the state was spending too much or too little on four areas, only about 15 percent of respondents said the state was spending too much on education. At the same time, 24 percent said the state spends too much on public services and 45 percent said it spends too much on prisons.
“The results of this poll reinforce what we heard at the listening sessions we held around the state this spring,” Lyall said. “Members of the public, and many of our legislators, are concerned about fairness. The UW System makes up less than 9 percent of the state budget, but is slated to take 38 percent of the actual spending cuts in the governor’s proposed budget.”
The UW System paid for the poll with private funds to gauge public opinion as their elected leaders in the Legislature prepare to consider the proposed UW System budget as part of the overall 2003-05 state budget.