Walker wants to cut UW System tuition by 5 percent

Gov. Scott Walker's state budget proposal would cut University of Wisconsin System tuition by 5 percent in the 2018-19 school year and provide $100 million in new funding for UW, the governor's office announced Tuesday. But it's unclear how much ...

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at the 42nd annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in San Diego, Calif. on July 23, 2015. (Reuters / Mike Blake)


Gov. Scott Walker's state budget proposal would cut University of Wisconsin System tuition by 5 percent in the 2018-19 school year and provide $100 million in new funding for UW, the governor's office announced Tuesday.

But it's unclear how much legislative support there is for the tuition cut because Republican legislative leaders already have expressed skepticism.

Walker's higher education budget proposal for the two years beginning July 1 also includes a "faculty accountability" policy to monitor how much time UW professors spend in the classroom and gives students the ability to opt out of paying certain fees that support campus organizations and services, among other initiatives.

Walker announced the proposals at UW System campuses in La Crosse, Eau Claire and Green Bay on Tuesday. He will unveil his full 2017-19 budget Wednesday.


The proposal fulfills UW System officials' request for $42.5 million of new state funding, but calls for that money to be distributed based on how campuses perform on an array of metrics. Walker's budget would provide an additional $11.6 million to boost pay for UW employees - much less than the $78 million the system requested for pay - and restore $50 million that was lapsed from UW's funding in the current state budget.

"Our investment today ensures student success by making college even more affordable, providing greater opportunities for students to earn their degree, and helping to bridge the gap between higher education and our workforce," Walker said in a statement. "We want our students to fuel the growth of our economy."

UW System leaders, eager to reverse years of declining state funding for higher education in Wisconsin, applauded the governor's proposal.

"The UW System provides a great return on investment, and we appreciate the recognition of the role the UW System plays in Wisconsin's economy and workforce," System president Ray Cross said. "We look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature in the months ahead."

The governor's proposal calls for keeping UW tuition frozen in the first year of the budget, then cutting it by 5 percent for the 2018-19 academic year, a spokesman said. The state would provide $35 million to pay for the tuition cut, in addition to other new funding for the System.

Walker estimates the cut, which would apply to undergraduate tuition for Wisconsin residents, would save UW students $360 per year on average. At UW-Madison, it would reduce tuition by about $500.

The cut is already facing headwinds in the Legislature, however. Both Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have said they are skeptical of an across-the-board tuition cut.

Spokeswoman Kit Beyer reiterated Tuesday that Vos is "in favor of keeping tuition where it's currently at and instead focus on providing adequate financial aid."


The budget proposal also seeks to cut college costs in other ways: It includes a requirement that UW institutions outline plans that would allow students to earn a bachelor's degree in three years instead of four, increases the number of credits that can transfer from technical colleges to universities and calls for $700,000 in financial aid for students who take UW's Flexible Option courses.

Walker's office did not specify exactly what performance measures would be used to distribute the $42.5 million he is proposing.

But a release from the office laid out several areas - including "improving affordability and attainability," "ensuring student success in the workforce" and "administrative efficiency" - that will make up the performance categories. The System's Board of Regents would also be allowed to specify two of its own performance categories, and each UW institution would be required to publish a "Performance Funding Report Card."

More than 30 states have started using performance-based funding to distribute money among public colleges and universities, and that funding makes up 30 percent of the state funding for Wisconsin's technical colleges.

Proponents argue the funding model helps ensure colleges are serving their students and the state by focusing their attention on student outcomes, such as graduation and job placement. Opponents say the model doesn't deliver on that promise, and instead can have unintended consequences that encourage schools to deny admission to students who might be less likely to graduate.

Beyer said one of Vos' priorities in the budget was filling the UW System's funding request, but said the Speaker's office would "have to take a closer look" at the performance funding model.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, the co-chairwoman of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, similarly said she needed to know more about the potential new funding for UW and Walker's tuition cut proposal before saying whether she supports either initiative.

"We've got to look at the details," Darling said. "We want to get as much as we can out of our investments" in UW.


The offices of Fitzgerald and Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, did not immediately respond Tuesday.

In a move aimed at "holding UW System faculty accountable," the proposal requires the Board of Regents to create a "faculty workload policy" to monitor how much time professors spend teaching. That information would be made public in annual accountability reports.

Two years ago Walker suggested that faculty could lessen the impact of funding cuts by teaching more classes.

Another item would allow students to opt out of paying "allocable segregated fees," which at UW-Madison provide funding for student organizations and Metro Transit bus passes, among other programs.

"Allowing an opt-out helps students make the decisions on what they do and do not want to fund," Walker's office said.

Those fees cost $89 per student this school year at UW-Madison, $55 of which went to bus passes. The fees also pay for the university's student government and provide funding that is distributed to various student clubs and advocacy organizations, including the campus radio station, rape crisis center and groups such as Badger Catholic and the Working Class Student Union.

Walker's proposal would not affect the more expensive category of non-allocable student fees, which cost students $519 per year and fund University Health Services and the Wisconsin Union, among other services at UW-Madison.

The campus' student government, Associated Students of Madison, receives all of its funding through allocable student fees. ASM often advocates for politically liberal causes, and has in recent years pushed campus administrators for changes to improve the experiences of minority students at the predominantly white university. Some of the UW-Madison groups funded through allocable fees are involved in similar activism.


"A lot of those groups do conduct campaigns and speak up about issues that Republicans, we know, tend to be against," said Colin Barushok, a UW-Madison student and chairman of the Student Services Finance Committee, which distributes segregated fees. "So it's very tempting to say that is one of the reasons why he went after allocable fees."

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said she appreciated the new funding in the governor's budget proposal, and plans to review its policy changes "to determine the impact on our campus."

Asked about the changes, UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said, "We'll be reviewing these proposals more closely and look forward to working with the governor and Legislature in the months ahead."

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