The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents met for a one-day meeting on March 6, devoting most of the discussion to broad discussions about two strategic issues – the future of tuition and financial aid policy at UW System campuses, and the role of the freshman-sophomore UW Colleges. No action was taken on either item.
In December 2006, UW Colleges/UW-Extension Chancellor David Wilson appointed a special commission to address ways to improve upon the historic liberal arts mission of the UW System’s 13 freshman-sophomore campuses. Five specific recommendations emerged from that process. In October 2007, UW System President Kevin P. Reilly asked a UW System Committee to look at how those five strategies support the UW System’s Growth Agenda for Wisconsin.
“At a broad level, I believe there are two ways to see these proposals,” explained Rebecca Martin, UW System’s senior vice president for academic affairs. “One way would be to see this is as a major change in their mission. Another way would be to look at it as a natural extension of their mission—moving into a new arena.”
Chancellor Wilson offered a review of the UW Colleges, which currently enroll 13,000 students. He emphasized that many are “non-traditional” students who have work and family obligations in addition to their studies, noting that 30 percent of the UW Colleges’ students work thirty-plus hours a week.
Wilson’s presentation focused on two potential strategies for the UW Colleges — offering courses and degree programs in under-served areas of northern Wisconsin, and seeking authority to offer one unique interdisciplinary baccalaureate degree in Applied Arts and Sciences.
Wilson pointed to the UW System’s growing responsibility to serve the state’s northern seventeen counties where access to higher education is limited and 11 percent of the population lives in poverty.
“It’s about understanding the market needs and responding to those needs,” explained Wilson.
Regent Mary Quinnette Cuene also stressed the importance of increasing access in northern Wisconsin.
“The adults of the Northwoods have needs that are definitely underserved,” said Quinnette Cuene.
“I believe there is huge room for growth there,” said Regent Thomas Shields.
Limited baccalaureate authority is one way Wilson believes the UW Colleges will provide students from around the state with an opportunity to improve their quality of life and to develop the UW System’s objectives for the Growth Agenda: producing more college graduates, stimulating job growth, and strengthening local communities.
The Board’s discussion led to numerous questions about how a new mission for the UW Colleges would affect access for low-income students, the effect on other UW System institutions, and the UW’s partnership with Wisconsin’s technical colleges.
“[The Colleges’] mission is very important,” said Regent Eilleen Connolly-Keesler. “We can see that in the graduation rates at the four-year colleges when they transfer.” Keesler also opened discussion about preparing the UW Colleges for the expected growth if limited baccalaureate authority was granted.
“We do think we have space to accommodate whatever growth they [students] need,” said Wilson.
Chancellor Wilson also reiterated limited baccalaureate degree authority would not duplicate degrees already offered at other UW System institutions.
“[It is] intended to close the nexus between liberal arts skills and the application of those skills to real world situations,” explained Wilson.
Regent Colleene Thomas inquired how the employer demand for an applied degree would compare to those of a traditional baccalaureate in art or science offered at the UW four-year institutions.
“This degree is designed with a lot of employer feedback in mind,” said Wilson, who added that the proposed degree will also give students the skill to go on to pursue masters degrees, if they choose to do so.
No action was scheduled on or taken on the UW Colleges presentation, but the Regents expressed excitement about the dialogue and possibilities for expanded educational opportunities.
“[This discussion] is entirely consistent with the Growth Agenda — which is our primary concern,” said Regent Jeff Bartell.
Regent David Walsh further added that the dialogue was “just another good creative example of something for us to think about.”
The Board of Regents also heard a report from the Tuition and Financial Aid Working Group, formed by UW System President Kevin P. Reilly in May 2007 to examine various approaches to tuition and financial aid. The group’s report encompassed a diverse range of tuition models, including some that are currently implemented in Wisconsin. The issues were presented for discussion purposes only. No recommendations were offered.
“[This discussion] is timely, it’s critical,” said Executive Senior Vice President Don Mash. “[It] will lead to more productive utilization of tuition as a lever, drive the Growth Agenda, and do what Wisconsin requires for a bright and healthy future.”
Although Wisconsin currently ranks as the tenth-most affordable state in comparison to peer four-year colleges, it provides relatively low levels of financial aid.
Associate Vice President Sharon Wilhelm explained that the decrease in federal and state aid for colleges has impacted the amount of debt students must shoulder. The average student will have $21,000 in student loans upon graduation.
Regent Danae Davis described the statistics on student debt and financial aid as “disturbing.”
“I hope we don’t drag our feet,” said Davis. “These statistics indicate that we have some clear issues in the state of Wisconsin when it comes to affordability.”
One model identified as effective was the use of “differential tuition,” that is, a method in which an institution charges incrementally higher tuition for certain campuses or academic programs to balance specific costs for new initiatives or student services. Differential tuition is currently being utilized at a few UW institutions, including UW-Milwaukee, which recently reported the successes of its trial differential tuition implementation at the February Board meeting.
Tuition stratification was a second strategy highlighted by the work group for explication. The strategy refers to the practice of temporarily suspending tuition increases at some institutions while allowing others to increase at slightly higher rates. This strategy was implemented in 2007 when the Regents froze tuition at the 13 UW Colleges in an attempt to ensure the two-year campuses remained competitively priced.
Regent Michael J. Spector praised the report’s findings, expressing the urgency of the UW System to begin to think outside the traditional tuition box as investments in higher education begin to dwindle.
Many of the Regents and systemwide administrators also shared their concern over maintaining institutional quality while funding appears to be on the down swing and the need for financial aid is increasing. Regent Thomas shared her personal experiences in the UW-Madison Political Science department where a number of professionals were lost due to the lack of competitive funding.
“There is a further distancing of students and the professionals that are sharing ideas,” said Thomas. “It’s damaging to the quality of education we are getting and it’s happening across the board.”
UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Linda Bunnell emphasized the importance of recruiting and retaining quality faculty and staff.
“It is easy to put a face on access. It’s not easy to put a face on quality,” said Bunnell.
Many Board members pointed to the growing importance of private donations, like that of the $175 million donation from the Morgridges in 2007, to bridge the gaps between revenue generated by tuition and state funding.
Reilly also said he was beginning to see a new trend in philanthropy.
“People and institutions are beginning to step-up to cover the costs of tuition,” said Reilly. Reilly further underlined the importance of grants and donations when he announced that Wisconsin is one of eleven institutions that the Lumina Foundation has chosen as a finalist for a $500,000 “Making Opportunities Affordable “grant that could be renewed for up to four years.
The Board will reevaluate tuition for the next school year in June.
After nearly four years on the Board of Regents, Milton McPike announced his resignation on Tuesday due to an ongoing battle with cancer. He was honored by the Board today for his lifelong commitment to education in Wisconsin.
“Our friend, and my long-time colleague, is a champion and truly a leader in public education in Wisconsin,” said Regent Elizabeth Burmaster.
McPike, a one-time professional football player, served as the principal of Madison West High School for 23 years before being appointed to the Board of Regents in 2004. Throughout his career, he received numerous accolades for his work with Wisconsin’s youth, including being named an “American Hero in Education” by Reader’s Digest in 1990 and receiving a NAACP Unsung Hero award.
“Thousands of Wisconsin citizens owe a great debt of gratitude to Milt,” said Burmaster.
Under his “transformational” leadership, Madison East High School was named a National High School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. He was also actively involved in Wisconsin’s Juvenile Justice Department and the Dane County Youth Commission.
“He taught [students] to overcome their fears by having an open heart and a loving soul,” said Burmaster.
McPike’s wife Sharon, a teacher at East High School, accepted the award on his behalf. Overwrought with emotion, she was unable to read aloud her prepared remarks, but did share them with the UW System.
“My husband has achieved many well-deserved awards over his lifetime, but this recognition is a magnificent culminating honor to his career in education,” she wrote.
“[Milt} is a great giant of a man,” said Burmaster. “No person, no issue has ever been too small for him.”
Associate Vice President David Miller reported to the Physical Planning and Funding Committee that the Building Commission approved about $69 million for projects at their February meeting. The funding breakdowns for those projects is $24 million of general fund supported borrowing, $8 million program revenue, and $37 million of gift funds.
Miller further informed the committee that of the six requests for alternative delivery methods for building projects approved by the Regents last month, only two projects (the UW-Madison South Campus Union project and the UW-Stout Jarvis Science Wing Remodeling project) were approved for alternative delivery by the Building Commission. However, the Commission did instruct the Department of Administration to work with interested parties to recommend statutory changes by November 2008 to improve the efficiency of project delivery.
Miller also added that at the February Building Commission meeting, Gov. Doyle presented the 2007 Design and Construction Awards which recognize excellence in state building projects. The Governor’s award for Excellence in Sustainable Design & Construction was given to Workshop Architects for the UW-River Falls New Student Union and the award for Excellence in Architectural Design was given to Plunkett-Raysich Architects for the UW-Madison Microbial Sciences Building.
After hearing reports from the Tuition and Financial Aid Working Group, the UW Colleges Committee, and the Physical Planning and Funding Committee, the Board of Regents adopted the following resolutions:
- Authorized UW-Madison to exchange land with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation;
- Approved the UW-Whitewater design report, and gave authority to adjust the project’s scope and budget and the construction of a residence hall project; and
- Authorized the UW System to construct maintenance and repair projects.
The Regents then went into closed session.
The UW System Board of Regents will hold its next meeting on April 10 and 11, 2008, at the Pyle Center in Madison; the meeting is hosted by UW Colleges and UW-Extension.