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UWPlatteville deals with its deficits
A little more than halfway to filling $8.5 million gap
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In the words of its chancellor, UW–Platteville is “a little more than halfway” toward budget cuts and revenue increases to meet its $8.5 million in deficits.

“We’ve probably dealt with the largest part” of the $5 million structural deficit coming into the 2015–16 academic year, said Chancellor Dennis Shields. 

The $5 million structural deficit is followed by $3.5 million in 2015–17 state budget cuts, UW–Platteville’s share of $25 million in UW System budget cuts. 

“We’ve been asked to take $8½ million out of our spending,” said Shields. “That’s $8½ million that is not circulating in the economy.”

Where UWP exactly is on the way to closing the $8.5 million gap isn’t known yet because, said Shields, “We still have some other variables.”

Those include the university’s carryover balances from the 2014–15 budget — which were estimated at $3 million earlier this year — along with the results of the voluntary separation incentive program, which has an application deadline of Saturday. As of mid-July, UW–Platteville had approved 83 retirements.

“That’s still going to be a moving target,” said Shields, with some positions filled, some filled by less expensive employees, and “some of them they may not be any savings” or be more expensive to replace. “Clearly we know some we won’t fill.”

The other big question will be 2015–16 enrollment. UW–Platteville has been the fastest growing four-year campus in the UW System for several years. Yet, said Shields, “We’re taking a bigger hit than some places that haven’t grown.”

One revenue increase that may affect enrollment is the approved $600 tuition increase in Tri-State Initiative students from Illinois and Iowa. Though “that may chase some people off,” said Shields, Tri-State Initiative tuition will remain lower than Illinois public university enrollment and be about the same as Iowa public university enrollment.

Another area to increase revenue is “ramping up our corporate relations,” said Shields, including charging companies for their involvement in student capstone projects, as some universities do but UW–Platteville had not.

UW–Platteville announced $3.7 million in budget cuts in April, along with $1.5 million in revenue increases. The announced budget cuts included 23 vacant positions that would not be filled, including a compliance officer position, the Karrmann Library director position, and the athletic department’s sports information director position. Another 31 positions were converted into academic staff positions or to another funding source.

Shields said the position cuts were not necessarily permanent, but “The Athletic Department will have to reconfigure some things to figure out how to staff” sports information.

Other budget cuts included the Campus Read program and funding for the Platteville Area Industrial Development Corp. The new Driftless Center, to study Southwest Wisconsin, is being suspended. The Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement is having tuition-based funding reduced, although one-time funds are being used while a transition plan for financial self-sufficiency is being created.

Shields said the goal of the process of closing the deficits is to “try to keep job losses to a minimum.” Nevertheless, he said, “there are some things that we think are good programs that we will not be able to do,” and that other programs will have to become more self-sustaining or have “significant reductions.”

At the same time, Shields still wants to improve pay for what he considers undercompensated positions, and “That raises the bar on what we need to do.”

One change this coming year is moving advancement staff from the UW–Platteville Foundation into direct UW–Platteville employment.

“We don’t have a size of endowment that could self-fund that function,” said Shields. “Our whole way of dealing with external audiences needed to ramp up,” including donor relations, “public image image and branding,” and corporate relations, which he said “we need to be more purposeful about that.

“The donor shouldn’t see the difference except for the bottom line of how their donations help the programs they want to help should become more obvious sooner.”

Shields estimates decisions on the next round of cuts will be made within the next five to eight months. Program changes need to be made far enough in advance to allow students to do academic planning.

“I don’t think anybody’s happy about it in a general sense, but people at least understand,” said Shields. “I think we’re doing things we can do to control our own destiny.”

Shields maintains that the emphasis from outside the UW System is in the wrong areas.

“I think there are long-term strategic judgments that need to be made, and our budget crisis has you spending more time on the crisis than on the strategies,” he said. “The emphasis should be on what are the outcomes that our stakeholders want. Tell us what they are, and let us figure out how to do that.”

One example is not finishing remodeling of the last two floors of Boebel Hall, a project estimated at $19 million that Shields called “a huge missed opportunity for the state. The money’s not going to be cheaper.” Shields also mentioned the second phase of Engineering Hall renovations as a project worth pursuing.

The 2015–17 budget did contain one good provision — giving UW campuses the ability to renegotiate leases.

“At the end of the day, the question you always ask is what is the impact on the students,” said Shields. “It’s not the best way to do it, but it’s important for all institutions of higher education to focus on what they are. It’s not just about our own existence; it’s about how do we deliver a high-quality education for our students to graduate in four or 4½ years.”