The University of Wisconsin system would have greater flexibility over its own resources, under terms of a proposal to be contained in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s next budget. In exchange, the UW would have its state funding slashed by 13% – or some $300 million – over the next two years. Walker said the proposal would mean that Wisconsin taxpayers will realize $150 million in savings annually.
“Reforming the partnership between the state and the UW System will save money and allow the UW System the flexibility to better serve those seeking higher education,” Walker’s statement said. “The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable, and this plan protects the taxpayers and allows for a stronger UW System in the future.”
Under the plan, the UW System would receive a block grant from the state’s general purpose revenues, with independent authority over spending. Resident undergraduate tuition – which has been frozen for the past two years – would remain frozen for two additional years, after which UW institutions will have flexibility to adjust tuition based on demand.
“Long term it will be a benefit, not only to the university system as a whole, but it will be a benefit to students,” Walker said in Milwaukee Tuesday. “The tuition freeze for the next two years will remain intact, and going forward we think we’re going to have a great system.”
UW System officials released statements as they reacted to the plan. System President Ray Cross said they had been prepared for significant budget cuts. “Make no mistake, the proposed cuts are substantial, and they will impact every one of our institutions,” Cross said.
Cross pointed out that the sort of flexibility offered by the Governor’s proposal is something that the system has long wanted. He said the flexibility would apply to procurement, human resources and some building projects.
“These flexibilities will allow us to manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs,” Cross said. “The flexibilities also ensure our continued commitment to affordability, accessibility and quality educational experiences for our students and Wisconsin families. ”
“The new public authority status proposed by the Governor for the UW System maintains the strong relationship between this outstanding public university and the people of this state,” said UW Board of Regents President Michael Falbo. “Under this new relationship, we will continue to be accountable to the people of Wisconsin.”
Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), the vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges and a long-time UW critic, said the proposed plan would mean that Wisconsin families will face “tuition increase perils.”
“The Governor’s proposal on the UW System would leave tuition-paying middle class families absolutely defenseless from potentially massive spikes in tuition and fees starting in 2017,” said Nass. “I don’t trust the unelected Board of Regents to prioritize the plight of middle class families.”