The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Budget cuts require balance

Wisconsin is facing difficult times, and the UW System is prepared to do its fair share to help. We want to be part of the solution to the current budget crisis and a catalyst for future economic growth in our region and the state.

Accomplishing both requires a delicate balance between cutting spending and protecting the resources necessary to maintain, at a reasonable level, the critical work of the UW System – a system with a tradition of educating Wisconsin’s best and brightest. For example, the UW System educates more than 90 percent of the state’s pharmacists and 68 percent of our K-12 teachers.

Some people in Madison apparently believe the UW System can cut more than $100 million from its budget without pain or consequences for our students, citizens and state. That simply is not true. The UW System is lean and has little margin to begin with. Consider the following:

– The UW System has taken $55 million in base budget cuts since 1993-94, plus a $10 million cut this current fiscal year. As a result, we are teaching 2,000 more students today than we were in 1992 with nearly 800 fewer faculty than we had then.

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– Administrative costs in the UW System are 5.8 percent of the operating budget compared to the national average for university systems of 10.3 percent. We are already the leanest public higher education system in the country.

– Support per student in the UW System is already $800 below the national average. This calculation is a function of the level of state support we receive (GPR) and the tuition revenue we generate – both are relatively low.

Modest but steady increases in GPR and in tuition rates are required. Financial aid increases should be indexed to tuition rates to support students with need. However, even in the face of deep budget cuts to state support, some legislators would limit the Board of Regents’ ability to raise tuition under these extraordinary circumstances. Something has got to give.

A March 12 editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal titled “Deeper UW Budget Cuts have Gone too Far” stated emphatically, “Either give the UW System some sort of dependable state support, or stop trying to micro-manage the university from inside the Capitol.” I could not agree more. This is the crux of the issue in good times and in bad.

Closer to home, UW-Eau Claire would lose $5 million under the Assembly plan to cut the UW System by more than $100 million. To provide some reference points as to what this would mean to Eau Claire, $5 million is the equivalent of 70 full-time faculty positions, or one-third of our entire classified staff, or 90 percent of our operating budget when excluding the cost of personnel.

With 85 percent of our budget dedicated to personnel, we can’t get anywhere near $5 million without leaving positions unfilled. Since we are a people-intensive business, quality, service (on and off campus) and access will be diminished. Fewer faculty will mean larger classes and fewer sections. It may take students longer to graduate because they may not get the classes they need. To maintain quality, we’ll have to admit fewer students and limit opportunities for part-time adult students. Critical support services, such as counseling and advising, may be diminished.

The Chippewa Valley Initiative (Eau Claire and UW-Stout) is on hold. In fact, the UW System’s economic stimulus package will be dead system-wide if the cuts exceed $100 million. Under the Gov. Scott McCallum’s proposed level of reductions of approximately $50 million, we could implement half the package and do something pro-active to help put Wisconsin’s economy back on track.

Be assured that the UW System and all of its campuses are carefully examining all expenditures in an attempt to minimize instructional, service and enrollment impacts to the extent possible to maintain quality. When the dust settles on the outcome of this critical legislative session, the UW System will be less than what it is today – one of the most efficient, accessible and high quality public higher education systems in the country. How much less can our expectations for Wisconsin’s future abide?

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Budget cuts require balance