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Chancellors make case for more UW funding
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UWMadison chancellor Rebecca Blank ... - photo by Photos by Andy McNeill

The chancellors of UW–Platteville and UW–Madison came to UWP Jan. 11 to argue that the UW System, and their campuses specifically, need more money from the state in its next budget.

“It is time to reinvest in higher education again in this state,” said UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who said the UW System had had five cuts in the last six state budgets.

“If we want people to grow in this state, if we want the economy to thrive, if we want people to stay in Wisconsin, we have to reinvest,” said UWP chancellor Dennis Shields.

Blank said state UW System funding has dropped from 45 percent in 1976 to 15 percent now, less than the system receives in tuition revenue.

Shields said state funding of UW–Platteville has dropped from 35 percent in the 2007–08 academic year to 15 percent now.

Much of the lost state aid has been made up by increased enrollment through the Tri-State Initiative, attracting students from Illinois and Iowa who can pay less than they’d pay at universities in their own states. The initiative “has literally saved this institution,” and now provides more funding than the state, Shields said.

Shields said for UW–Platteville students historically “in many cases this was the only option they had, and it was an affordable option.”

“All of the schools in this system have been enormously responsible in how we’ve dealt with the cuts,” said Blank, saying that Wisconsin was 49th in the nation in higher education spending in the past two years. “We have to compete for students and we have to compete for faculty with all the other universities in the country … and our competitors have had more money to invest.”

Blank said UW System schools have had budget cuts of 20 to 26 percent, including 22 percent at UW–Madison. That has led to larger faculty workloads, increased class sizes, less student advising, and less facility maintenance.

Blank said UW–Madison salaries are 12 to 25 percent lower than salaries in other Big Ten Conference universities. “The whole point of the quality of the reputation of a university is its faculty,” she said.

The pay situation is similar at UW–Platteville. “We’re losing people because of that, and we’re having trouble hiring people because of that,” said Shields.

The UW System Board of Regents is proposing an increase of $42.5 million in two-year spending along with restoring $50 million previously cut from the system. The Regents’ proposal includes a tuition freeze in the 2017–18 academic year and a tuition increase by the Consumer Price Index in the 2018–19 academic year.

Blank also mentioned the results of a study that reported that every $1 in state spending on the UW System results in $24 in return, saying there is “virtually no other institution in the state that even comes close to that.”

Shields said UW–Platteville’s economic impact is $394 million statewide, with $295 million of that in Southwest Wisconsin, and $7.8 million in Platteville. “When the university thrives, it helps the community thrive,” he said.

Shields touted two building projects he said the campus needs — the second phase of renovations to Boebel Hall, to support the biology program’s 300 percent enrollment growth; and Sesquicentennial Hall, an engineering building to replace Ottensman Hall and support UWP’s engineering programs, which produce 23 percent of the UW System’s engineering graduates.

In addition to more state funding, the chancellors want more flexibility, including in finances. Wisconsin is the only state that doesn’t allow its university system to bond by itself for projects. All bonding must go through the state Department of Administration, which Blank said results in “internal bureaucratic struggles.”

Shields said projects that go through DOA average nearly six years to complete. He said Ottensman Hall was built to last 100 years, but 51 years after it was built the building doesn't meet today’s curriculum needs.

When asked why the UW System needs money more than the state’s K–12 education system or the transportation system, with a claimed $1 billion deficit, Blank said, “This shouldn’t be posed as an either/or question. K–12 needs money. … We need money for roads … It is the state Legislature’s and the governor’s job to decide how money gets distributed. … This is a both/and, not an either/or.

“There are a lot of demands on the state, and we had a tough economy in 2011 and 2012, and it’s up to us to make the case.”