MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System is continuing to take steps to help address the state’s immediate financial crisis, while focusing resources on programs that are most relevant to student access and success.
In October, UW System President Kevin P. Reilly implemented new approval processes for university hiring. Today, Reilly announced that UW System institutions would closely scrutinize out-of-state travel. He is also asking faculty and academic leaders to look at ways the UW System might streamline and enhance its educational offerings.
“Our first obligation is to produce college-educated citizens who are prepared to succeed in the innovation economy,” Reilly said. “Wisconsin’s current shortage of residents with four-year degrees puts us at a disadvantage, leaving per-capita income here behind Minnesota’s and that of other higher-performing states.”
“While remaining focused on the state’s critical educational needs, we must do our part to help balance the state budget. By preserving our capacity to enroll and educate students, we set the stage for a more rapid recovery. We should keep in mind that today’s college freshmen will be completing their degrees at a time when we hope the state has emerged from this economic slump,” Reilly said.
Reilly directed Chancellors to monitor and approve out-of-state travel funded by State tax dollars or tuition. Prior to approving a travel request, Chancellors will determine if the trip is essential to the employee’s duties, and whether cancelling the trip would incur penalties. UW System employees will be encouraged to explore other avenues such as videoconferences, and Chancellors will look closely at instances where multiple employees are scheduled for the same function.
In addition to reducing spending, Reilly also announced that the UW System would look at long-range efforts to significantly improve the use of scarce resources. One such initiative focuses on the feasibility of offering a three-year baccalaureate degree program at selected UW System campuses. Such an accelerated degree structure could lower educational costs for well-prepared students in selected majors, utilizing advanced placement courses, online classes, and summer study.
“For some motivated students, we will consider a new degree structure that makes better use of independent learning and other strategies that might significantly shorten the time required,” Reilly said. “In that scenario, both the university and the student save money. I will ask a group of faculty and academic leaders to examine how such an approach could preserve the content and quality of a UW degree within a shortened timeframe.”
Reilly has also asked campus Provosts to examine the UW System’s current array of degree-granting programs, in the context of today’s economic challenges. Their task is to analyze enrollment and graduation data for low-enrollment programs across the 26 UW System campuses, considering how these programs might be realigned to both maximize scarce resources and support workforce needs in the state.
“We must consider ways that UW System campuses might retool for a changing marketplace. Other Wisconsin organizations are being forced to adapt to an evolving global economy. Our university is not immune from that pressure,” Reilly said.
“Investments in higher education must be a central component of any economic stimulus plan, but we will not simply ask for that investment. We will contribute to it,” Reilly said. “First, we will implement new cost-containment measures. Beyond just travel and hiring, we are considering broader ways to enhance our operations and overall efficiency by streamlining business practices. One element of that streamlining will be a continued conversation with the State about administrative flexibilities that could significantly reduce the university’s overhead.”
UW System is already recognized nationally for its success at holding down costs. One part of that success comes from a long-term effort to reduce the number of course credits that students take en route to a four-year degree. The typical UW System undergraduate now takes 134 credits, down from 145 in 1994. That is the equivalent of creating 12,000 new seats on UW campuses.
“At this stage, we face an uncertain future. The state has never needed its public university more, and it has never been more challenged to sustain its support for this vital enterprise,” Reilly said.