BELOIT — A year out from 2015-17 biennial budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, the dean of three colleges in the southwestern part of the state said the reorganization shuffled staffing and recruitment but had not damaged academic offerings.
Fiscal challenges such as the $250 million budget cut from the last biennium may not be over. On Tuesday during his “State of the State” address, Gov. Scott Walker said he wants “significant” tuition cuts to the UW System for the 2017-19 biennial budget. Under the Republican governor UW tuition has been frozen the past several years.
“It raised eyebrows with us because we don’t know what significant means,” said UW-Colleges Southwestern Regional Officer and Dean Charles Clark during an interview Thursday at the Beloit Daily News. “At this point, we have to wait and learn as much as we can.”
Clark oversees three two-year campuses — UW-Rock County, UW-Richland and UW-Baraboo.
Walker’s announcement came just months ahead of the UW System asking for over $42 million in additional state funding. The system has been held at a state-mandated tuition freeze since 2013, and a self-imposed freeze since 2011.
No specifics regarding the tuition cuts were announced Tuesday, but Walker said Thursday he would support using general purpose revenue in the budget to offset the tuition cut. He said additional funds to the UW System could be given through performance-based measures, including graduation rates. The system’s recent budget request was made to fund more student advising services, something the three southwestern institutions did after making larger cuts following the 2015-17 funding decreases.
“We reinvested starting in 2016, after we saw some of our student-to-adviser ratios exceed the national average for two-year institutions,” Clark said.
The large cut from 2015-17 took effect in January 2016, and dramatically changed the UW System’s administrative structure. Across all 13 two-year schools in the four-region system, 100 full-time positions were cut, including 20 from the southwestern Wisconsin region. Amidst the reorganization, the system revamped its recruiting efforts. In the fall semester last year, the system employed eight full-time regional recruiters to find prospective students nine months out of every year.
Locally, UW-Rock County enrolled just over 1,000 students for the fall semester, and 900 students are slated to attend during the spring term, Clark said. Tuition at Rock County costs just over $5,120, and includes segregated fees for additional on-campus activities. Of all students enrolled in the 13 UW System Colleges, only 33 percent of graduates are required to borrow money to pay for school.
“Financially, it’s an efficient way for students to get the first two years of school completed,” Clark said.
The three schools in the southwestern region also offer an applied arts and sciences undergraduate degree, and of all two-year school attendees, over 50 percent transfer to a four-year school at a third-year academic level. At UW-Rock County, the school also offers a four-year engineering degree through the Collaborative Engineering Program with UW-Platteville.
Looking ahead, Clark said he would support adding a residence hall to the UW-Rock County campus, but did not nail down a specific timeline over the plan.
“We need to make sure that the county is in agreement, and we want to make sure the people living around the campus are comfortable with the residential building being on campus or close to campus,” Clark said.
Physical facilities at two-year campuses are owned by the counties.
Clark’s support for a residence hall was prompted following the completion of an on-campus unit being added to UW-Baraboo. The school added an 82-bed facility, and now has a waiting list for future student tenants. He said UW-Rock County’s could support 120 students based on enrollment data.
“We’re looking at the option,” Clark said. “There’s interest and also concern.”
Adding a live-in facility could help attract more international students to the area, he said. Nearly 30 percent of UW-Richland’s 200-plus full-time students are international students.
“When there is on-campus or near campus housing available, our colleges can be an attractive destination to international students,” Clark said.