A bill in the Wisconsin Assembly that would cap student segregated fees on University of Wisconsin campuses could cost UW-Superior’s athletics programs as much as $40,000 a year.
Assembly Bill 373, currently in committee, would place strict limits on fees that support intercollegiate sports and capital construction projects. The bill, co-authored or sponsored by 10 Republicans and one Democrat, was introduced in August.
The bill would cap the amount charged to each student for intercollegiate athletics at $225 or the amount the school charges for the 2020-21 academic year, whichever is less.
UW-Superior students currently pay $247 in segregated fees toward athletics, which helps cover costs for travel, equipment and other program needs.
The bill was authored by state Rep. David Murphy, R-Greenville, and state Sen. André Jacque, R-De Pere.
It comes after the UW System Board of Regents in July approved a $36 increase in segregated fees at four-year campuses, while tuition remains frozen for a seventh consecutive year.
Co-authors include state Reps. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem; Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma; Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport; Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls; Daniel Knodl, R-Germantown; Ron Tusler, R-Harrison; and Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin. Co-sponsors include state Sens. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville.
If the bill became law, that amount would drop by $22 per student to meet the new cap, which could cost the programs $35,000 to $40,000 annually, said Nick Bursik, UWS director of athletics.
“We utilize our segregated-fee funds to help support the overall student athlete experience in order to allow our programs to participate,” Bursik said. “If this bill were to pass, and we were capped at $225, it would result in a budgetary reduction for our department.
“And the reality is, we'd have to find ways in our department to make that up, and we know that it would impact our ability to offer the best student-athlete experience possible, and potentially the opportunities that we currently have for student athletes.”
Bursik doesn’t have specifics on exactly where cuts would be made or which programs would be affected, but he said game reductions and a loss of support services for student athletes could result.
While he doesn’t foresee a particular sport’s entire program folding as a result of the cuts, Bursik said nothing is certain.
“I guess I can’t confirm that that couldn’t be a reality,” he said.
Along with UW-Superior, both UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee currently charge students more than the proposed $225 cap for athletics.
“We were not consulted in the determination of what that dollar figure would be,” Bursik said.
About a quarter of UWS undergraduates participate in the school’s athletic programs in some capacity, Bursik said.
“Our student athletes are a significant portion of our overall institutional enrollment, and anything that jeopardizes our ability to offer them a good experience could and will jeopardize that ability for us to attract and retain our student athletes.”
In a letter to the Wisconsin Assembly, UWS student athletes Mathea Brink and Eva Reinertsen, president and vice president, respectively, of the school’s Student Athlete Advisory committee, urged lawmakers to oppose the bill.
“The reality of this budget reduction will certainly affect the student-athlete experience and the co-curricular opportunities we have,” they wrote. “Our university is also disproportionately impacted by our smaller enrollment size compared to our UW peers, (which) results in our fee being higher than most other institutions.”
For capital construction projects, the bill proposes that segregated fees only be used if the project is green-lit by a majority of the school’s student body in two consecutive academic years, and no more than half of a project’s funding could come from student fees.
Jordan Milan, UW-Superior’s director of strategic communications, said that could endanger future building projects on campus.
“You know, if this type of a bill were in existence before our Yellowjacket Union or Marcovich Wellness Center were constructed, we wouldn’t have those buildings here on campus,” she said. “I don’t think it would be the same for our peer institutions across the UW System.”
A UW System analysis summary also notes that the bill’s language isn’t clear about what counts as a construction project.
“The bill is vague on what is considered facility construction versus facility maintenance,” it says. “For example, a roof replacement is currently treated as a capital construction project, so if this were limited, important repair projects would be significantly restrained.”
A message Wednesday to bill co-author Murphy’s office wasn't returned as of Thursday afternoon.