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State investment could advance excellence

Gov. Scott Walker announced his proposed state budget last week and revealed big plans for Wisconsin education and the UW System. Interim Chancellor Gilles Bousquet released a statement following Walker’s announcement showing optimism for the budget and what it could mean for the future of UW-Eau Claire.

“For the first time we perceive this as a re-investment in the UW System,” Bousquet said. “We’ve had a decade of massive cuts and this is the first time we see some new funds.”

Bousquet and  Assistant Chancellor for Budget and Finance David Gessner are looking forward to using this investment to provide students with a wider array of classes and make college more affordable.

Oftentimes, classes are only offered every other semester or if a certain number of students enroll. Gessner said this investment could change that.

“(This investment will) give the university greater flexibility to make decisions,” Gessner said. “We hope to leverage the investment from the state along with tuition and differential tuition to provide a better set of course offerings and better services to students.”

In the past, Eau Claire has had to carefully manage its resources, which meant shrinking and refocusing departments.

“We didn’t have the resources to do all the things we had been doing,” Gessner said. “That has sharpened the awareness across campus as far as what we do for planning and offering programs.”

Students have been vocal about a wider selection of classes and more sections of necessary classes, Gessner said.

Junior Joe Bartlett said he sometimes has trouble getting the class he needs. He also said the investment will open up more sections of current classes as well as expand the selection.

“The more variety you give, the more people are going to take those opportunities and run with them,” Bartlett said. “(Maybe they’ll) come up with new majors or maybe even new fields. More diverse classes lead to more diverse people.”

Bousquet also hopes this investment will reduce tuition increases.

“At no point do we want to be in a situation where college is not affordable for people who want to go to college,” Bousquet said. “I think we’re in an era where everybody has realized the pressure that high tuition increases puts on families and students.

“Everybody, including the governor, is working to put investments in place where we limit those tuition increases.”

Students hope to see this investment put to use to benefit the university as a whole.

Junior Nicole Foyt said improvements have been made in some areas, but would like to see more.

“I’m in the business school and I know there’s going to be some changes because of the new education building with us being able to have more space with departments moving,” Foyt said. “It would be nice to see other areas of the university be affected in a positive way as well.”

Others are hoping for specific improvements in certain departments. Senior Mercedes Domagall and junior Chelsea Elliott would like to see improvements made to the art department.

“I work in the art department and we have no money,” Domagall said. “Whereas I feel like some other (departments) are very blessed with what they have.”

Elliott thinks the investment could help better prepare art students for their careers.

“I know they’ve been trying to do a student art gallery so students can display their work,” Elliott said. “We’re going to have to display our work in the future and we don’t really have experience with that.”

Overall, students can expect to see stabilization in many areas. Gessner compared it to a family living paycheck-to-paycheck. The investment won’t completely cover the university’s needs and tuition increases will still be necessary. However, students can look forward to smaller, consistent increases in the future.

“It’s enough to bring stability and it’s enough to make certain the university is a prudent manager of its resources,” Gessner said.

The budget cuts in the past have started to affect the institution’s excellence, Bousquet said. He said the goal of this investment is to restore that.

“In spite of the fact that it’s not a lot of new money for us, it’s an important signal,” Bousquet said. “Particularly for a place like Eau Claire, if there’s any aspect that’s eroded our excellence we want to make sure that’s not going to be the case in the future.

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