Wisconsin update: How universities are cutting $250 million from expenses

Schools system-wide are cutting staff and faculty, reducing class sizes, and cutting course offerings

The University of Wisconsin (UW) System released a report last week detailing how it plans to manage a $250 million cut to state funding across its campuses.

Last 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 UW System President Ray Cross said $20 million in cash balances would be given out as a one-time aid.

Overall, the UW System is to lose $140.6 million for the current budget year. To absorb the cuts, campuses across the state are offering voluntary retirement buyouts, laying off staff, cutting programs, and streamlining academic and administrative work.

Campuses across the system to take a hit

The report explains how cuts are being implemented on UW's 13 four-year campuses, as well as UW Colleges and UW Extension.

Each campus took a different percentage cut, but there are several common themes across the board:

  • Delaying facility updates and maintenance;
  • Cutting academic advisor positions;
  • Cutting courses and course sections;
  • Eliminating student on-campus jobs;
  • Choosing not to increase enrollment in certain high-demand fields;
  • Increasing class sizes;
  • Reducing IT support;
  • Lowering technology spending; and
  • Eliminating or merging programs.

All campuses across the system are planning to cut academic and staff positions—or have already. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is eliminating 25% of its vice chancellor and associate vice chancellor positions and cutting other administrative positions by 10%.

How UW-Madison plans to deal with proposed budget cuts: Eliminate 400 positions

Seven schools have increased class sizes or reduced class offerings because faculty retired early, took job offers from other universities, or accepted buyouts. Those campuses either froze or eliminated most of the vacant positions.

According to officials at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, larger class sizes and faculty reductions could put the accreditation of four of its schools in jeopardy.

While UW Colleges did not reduce faculty or course offerings, they reduced their non-instructional workforce by 22%, which has resulted in a 533:1 student to academic adviser ratio.

UW regents will be visiting campuses statewide to determine the effects of the budget cuts (Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Post-Crescent, 4/13; Mason, Wisconsin Public Radio, 4/12).

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Week in review: Does higher ed use the wrong metrics to measure student outcomes?

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