UW System funding slashed by $250 million in finalized budget

Madison campus hit the hardest

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents released its final higher education budget numbers Monday evening, publically revealing how the funding is to be distributed.

Dramatic cuts overall

In January, Gov. Scott Walker (R) proposed a $300 million cut in his two-year state budget. The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee then reduced the funding cut to $250 million, and University of Wisconsin (UW) System President Ray Cross said $20 million in cash balances will be given out as a one-time aid.

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Overall, the UW System is to lose $140.6 million for the current budget year, which began July 1. The regents are predicted to officially approve the budget Thursday.

Aid for some schools

Cross said the system would use the $25 million per year funding increase from the legislature and a $20 million one-time bonus from excess cash balances to help offset the larger cuts at some schools. Despite months of trying to create a need-based formula, the distribution ended up being somewhat arbitrary because there were too many outliers, Cross said.

Factors playing into how much to award each included: Pell Grant recipient enrollment, compensation gaps, economy-of-scale challenges, and institutions' unique circumstances.

Walker and the Joint Finance Committee both upheld extending the tuition freeze for another two years for state residents. The system regents approved increases for graduate and nonresident students at a meeting this spring.

By the numbers

Under the 2015-2016 spending plan, UW-Madison is to take the largest hit, losing $59 million. Even with $39 million in already implemented budget cuts, fund redirection, and position eliminations—and $17 million in revenue from out-of-state tuition dollars—the school still faces a $35 million deficit, says Chancellor Rebecca Black.

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"As we turn the page on this budget, it is clear that continuing to diminish state support for higher education in Wisconsin does nothing but diminish the UW System," Black says.

At the other four-year campuses, cuts range from UW-Superior's $851,000 to UW-Milwaukee's $18 million.

UW-Milwaukee officials say they expect to spend down the campus's cash balances by $30.9 million. And UW-Madison officials say they are putting $10 million of their own funds toward the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

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To absorb the cuts, campuses across the state are offering voluntary retirement buyouts, laying off staff, cutting programs, and streamlining academic and administrative work.

This year, the effect on students' experiences will be minimal, says Cross. "But I can't predict what the next year will be like," as the system will not have as much of a reserve cushion (AP/Daily Union, 7/7; Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/6; University of Wisconsin Board of Regents public meeting notice).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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