Photo: Becky Blank for blog page

Blank’s Slate

A Blog by UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank


Update on budget reductions

Back in October, I told you about a process that would allow us to plan for and implement anticipated state budget cuts. I asked our deans and directors to plan for these reductions in ways that maintain our teaching, research and outreach excellence and shield, as much as possible, the impact on our students.

Even while we continue to advocate for a smaller cut, we must now put our initial plans into action for Fiscal Year 2015-16, which begins on July 1. Our $36 million plan includes $21 million in budget cuts and redirects an additional $15 million from other campus units to our overall educational mission. This plan includes the elimination of approximately 400 positions.

It begins to bridge, but does not fill, a structural deficit that may be as much as $96 million as a result of state budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. The nonresident undergraduate tuition increases approved by the Board of Regents on April 10 will provide another $17.5 million in new revenue. There will remain, however, a significant deficit.

The reductions have been planned and will be carried out by our deans and directors, who know best which programs can be cut while minimizing the impact on the student experience and our core educational mission. Starting today, campus leaders are sharing information about their plans for budget cuts in their units.

Our programs and services are all useful and worthy of support, but we have attempted to prioritize those most essential. I recognize that this process will impact good people and limit our ability to serve students and the state. I particularly regret the impact these cuts will have on our employees and their families.

While the real impact of the staff reductions and budget cut will take some time to implement and measure, we do know that all parts of campus will feel the effects of these cuts. Among the areas affected:

  • Program closures and mergers: Several programs across campus will be ended or restructured, including in the areas of information technology, agriculture, and the arts.
  • Academic offerings and services: The job eliminations will likely lead to larger classes and fewer course options. Reductions in advising services may hurt time to degree and retention.
  • Support services: Services that support students, faculty and staff, such as information technology, will be reduced. We will invest less in maintaining our buildings and facilities.

As mentioned, we are directing our schools, colleges and units, including our Athletic Department, to make greater financial contributions back to our central campus. The tuition increases I mentioned earlier will allow us to support the freeze on in-state student tuition and maintain the quality of our programs. We will continue to pursue ways to operate even more efficiently.

While our true uncommitted reserves equal only $54 million today, we are in the process of estimating our fund balance as we close this fiscal year. We intend to delay some number of projects and utilize a portion of those fund balances to help bridge the gap with the expected budget shortfall.

I want to emphasize that these changes, as difficult as they are, cannot and will not stop with this year’s budget. We will continue a thorough review of university operations, guided by our new strategic framework, to invest in our strengths and reduce or eliminate underperforming programs.

I recognize that these are stressful times, particularly for the members of our workforce. We have a number of resources designed to help those directly impacted, and anyone else who needs support. We want to remind all staff that confidential counseling and consultation is available through the Employee Assistance Office (EAO). For more information: or call 608-263-2987.

The university has weathered many challenges over the past two centuries. The strength of our mission, and the quality of our students, faculty and staff, set us apart and will carry us through.

I will continue to update you as I have additional information.

Explanation of tuition increases for out-of-state and professional school students

Update: On Friday, April 10, the UW System Board of Regents approved tuition increases for UW-Madison as well as LaCrosse, Milwaukee, Parkside, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point, Stout and Whitewater.

Madison’s increase affects non-resident undergraduate tuition and graduate professional school tuition (resident and non-resident) in selected schools. The Regents amended the request, approving the increase for the first two years (2015-2017) and requiring that the final two-year increase be brought back to the Regents for discussion.

As I’ve previously mentioned here and in public forums, we plan to ask the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to increase tuition for our professional school students and our out-of-state undergraduates. That plan will come before the Regents on April 10.

There are many reasons we need to do this. First, like all organizations and institutions our costs of operation – in this case providing a first-class education – continue to rise. In addition, we’ve fallen behind our peers, substantially behind in some cases, in these tuition categories and have some ability to increase prices to match the quality of and demand for a UW-Madison education. And finally, our institution is facing a difficult budget situation and increased revenue from tuition can help maintain the quality of the educational experience our students rightly expect.

All UW System schools have been under a tuition freeze for the past two years, a freeze that resulted from the controversy over the amount of reserve balances UW institutions should keep. Gov. Walker has proposed extending the tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students for the next two years, while also proposing a cut to state support for the UW System. In addition to the proposed cut in the next biennium, we are currently trying to manage a $23 million deficit that resulted from cuts in the past budget. Taken together this leaves us with a structural deficit of $96 million in the coming year.

We will be dealing with this deficit in two ways. First, we are making budget cuts in many of our educational programs (which is almost entirely where our state funding goes), and redirecting revenue from other activities into education (which means budget cuts in those programs as well). I will write about these budget cuts in another few weeks. We anticipate raising about $37 million in savings from cuts or redirected funds this coming year, which is about as much as we can reasonably do with just a few months of preparation. Second, raising tuition will also help us deal with the budget deficit. In fact nine system schools including UW–Madison will be seeking tuition increases for professional program students, nonresident students or both.

Our proposal is to increase nonresident tuition by $3,000 per year for the next two years, followed by increases of $2,000 for the following two years. By the end of the four-year period, our nonresident tuition rate would be $35,523 per year, more than $6,000 less than the University of Michigan’s current nonresident rate. Our peers’ nonresident tuition has been rising at an average rate of 3.2 percent each year for the last decade. If that trend continues, our proposal would place us no higher than fourth or fifth in the Big Ten by 2018-19, an appropriate position given our strong out-of-state application pool and our overall quality.

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Reflections on the 2015 Final Four

What a ride!

I had the opportunity to attend the Final Four in Indianapolis and cheer as our Badgers men’s basketball team marched to the NCAA national championship game.

Although we didn’t get the ending we all hoped for, this team captured the nation’s imagination for more than what they have accomplished on the court. They were a disciplined team that embodied what it means to be a student athlete at UW–Madison.

They combined great athletic success, academics, and service to their community with a spirit of fun. I’m excited about everything they’ve done for America’s vocabulary. At the same time, they’ve represented us with class and grace.

This was the 17th consecutive trip to the Big Dance for the men’s team. That is an extraordinary achievement … only three other schools in the nation have had longer NCAA streaks. It’s all the more remarkable considering the total number of NCAA Tournament appearances for UW between 1948 and 1993 was … zero.

The skill that Coach Ryan and his dedicated staff bring to building students into extraordinary athletes, and the skill with which they mold those extraordinary athletes into a winning team, is unmatched in this nation.

The skills that our student-athletes learn serve them well long after they leave our university. Coach Ryan refers to them as life skills, and he’s right.

Even with a loss in the final minutes, this team will be remembered as our best basketball team of all time. We are all lucky to have experienced one of the most exciting runs in Badger sports history.

A broader perspective on faculty workload

Over the past several months, there have been a number of public statements suggesting that faculty at the University of Wisconsin should have higher teaching loads. These comments often demonstrate a limited understanding of what our faculty here at Madison actually do. It’s our job to better communicate to those outside the university what we do at UW–Madison and how we do it.

At a major research university like UW–Madison, faculty members have two major responsibilities: teaching and research. In addition, because the Wisconsin Idea guides our mission, many of our faculty members engage in outreach and service activities as well. And a number of faculty members also have administrative responsibilities, such as serving as a department chair or research center director.

A study conducted last year gives insight into our faculty workload. Surveying faculty across 10 departments in the biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities, faculty reported 63 hours of work each week on average. According to the survey, 96 percent of faculty work with undergraduates, spending an average of 18.4 hours a week teaching, advising and mentoring them; 97 percent work with graduate, professional and postdoctoral students, spending an average of 16 hours per week teaching, advising and mentoring them. Ninety-nine percent of faculty do work that strengthens the university’s outreach mission, spending an average of 8.7 hours a week on service-related activities.

According to an analysis of our 2,117 faculty members in fall 2013, UW‐Madison faculty funded by state tax dollars taught on average 3.41 classes per week, in addition to time spent working with students individually through independent study and field courses.

At UW–Madison, 100 percent of faculty are expected to conduct research, some of it alongside graduate and undergraduate students, and they spend an average of 21.3 hours per week on research activities. This research is essential to our state economy, bringing in approximately $800 million in outside investment to the state of Wisconsin. UW–Madison’s $1.1 billion in total research expenditures was the fourth highest among all universities nationwide in 2013.

The state funded portion of the faculty payroll in 2013-14 was $186 million. At the same time, expenditures from external sources (including funds raised by faculty in competitions for grant funds) was $643 million. That means for each dollar in state‐funded salary, UW‐Madison faculty bring in $3.50 in funding to support their research, most of which comes from outside Wisconsin. On average UW-Madison faculty members bring in about $250,000 in research funding each year. These research dollars are generally awarded based on a competition for grant money from funding agencies, including the federal government, and foundations. We also have some gifts from private donors that support research, instruction, and outreach.

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Promoting an efficient university administration

When I talk with alums and with state legislators about impending budget cuts at UW-Madison, I’m often told that there is a lot of fat that can be trimmed out. I take my responsibility to constantly look for ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this university seriously. But I also want people to understand the limits to this argument.

Folks often believe that we must be inefficient because we’re big. UW­–Madison is a $3 billion-plus enterprise with 43,000 students and roughly 21,000 full-time employees, plus an additional 13,000 undergraduate students working part-time. We’re big because we have a large mission focused on education, research and outreach. But big doesn’t need to mean inefficient.

I have been impressed with how lean of an operation we run. UW–Madison’s central administration costs are among the lowest in the American Association of Universities, an association of 62 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

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Reflecting on the budget, advocacy and civil discourse

The ongoing debate about the proposed UW System budget has attracted national attention, perhaps not surprisingly, as it has gotten caught in the swirl of media and presidential politics.Chadbourne_game_fall14_6703

I have been dismayed to see my statements advocating for a strong budget for UW-Madison presented as attacks on Governor Walker.

I want to be clear: I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to become acquainted with Governor Walker over the past two years and appreciate his interest in higher education. I’ve had many conversations about the budget over the past month with many people, including students, faculty, staff, legislators, alumni and business leaders. In all of them, public and private, I have focused on the proposal and what it means for the university, our students and the state of Wisconsin. Continue reading

People are hearing our message

Photo: Bascom Hall

As you know, our campus community, alumni, parents and the state as a whole have all been intensely engaged in discussions and debate about the state budget. I’m told that higher education in Wisconsin has never been “front page news” for a longer period.  In my opinion, it’s usually a better day when the university isn’t on the front page.  But we didn’t start this debate, it found us. And we need to keep talking about what UW-Madison does in this state and the importance of keeping this university and the UW System strong. Continue reading

Update on budget proposal and campus forums

Last week, I shared my concerns with you about the forthcoming state budget and its implications for our university.

On Tuesday, Gov. Scott Walker released his budget plan for the UW System and as expected, it includes a funding reduction of $300 million and formation of a public authority providing greater autonomy from state government. Adding together all of the recent cuts, it would amount to a $86 million annual reduction for UW-Madison. Continue reading

Update on MIU results: Continuing good news

The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates helps Wisconsin students to graduate sooner and with less debt. It is a prime example of our university using new resources effectively to improve the experience of our students.

Former Chancellor Biddy Martin launched the program in 2009 with the goal of improving value, quality and affordability of undergraduate education. Approximately $40 million in undergraduate tuition is set aside and divided equally between instructional support and student services, and funding for need-based aid.

I highlighted the MIU in this blog last year, and I am happy to say that the news this year is just as good. One of the most important facts in a new report on the program is that time-to-degree has been improving steadily since the MIU was initiated. For 2013-14 graduates, average time to degree was 4.16 years, improved from 4.20 years for 2008-09 grads and 4.29 years for the class of 2002-03. In addition, our first-year retention rate, or new freshmen in fall 2013 who went on to enroll in fall 2014, was 95.3 percent, the highest ever recorded at UW–Madison.

Furthermore, gains have been made across groups that have historically had somewhat lower graduation rates, including men, low income students, students who are first generation in college, and targeted minority students.

One of the reasons this is happening is that some of the MIU dollars were used to hire faculty in high-demand, introductory courses. Our current faculty headcount of 2,220 is the highest since 2005. Overall, the report shows that MIU has helped to stabilize the undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio during a time of growing enrollment. In 2014 the ratio was 13.2 students to each faculty member, down from 13.5 the prior year.

In the past five years, more than $90 million in MIU-funded financial aid has been distributed to students. In the MIU era, annual institutional financial aid has increased from $6.9 million in 2008-09 to $30.1 million in 2014-15.

In 2013-14, 7,265 students received aid from MIU dollars. Low income students from inside our state have seen their loan burden reduced due to the program. The percentage of financial need met by UW–Madison has improved from 15 percent in 2008 to 21 percent, more than offsetting declines in state and federal gift aid and reducing students’ reliance on subsidized loans.

As I’ve written before, we are in a difficult budget climate. We are facing a major reduction in the amount of support we receive from the state. I am grateful for programs like MIU – which is not reliant on outside funding – that help improve the quality of the Wisconsin experience for our students while exposing them to less debt.



Reaction to the latest state budget news

Although we have not yet seen full details of Governor Walker’s plan, I am concerned about the magnitude of the proposed budget cuts and their impact on UW-Madison.

These proposed cuts are believed to be the largest in the history of the university. In the past, large cuts have always been mitigated by additional tuition revenue from resident and non-resident students.

The proposed cuts, on top of the reduction in the last state budget, would result in a more than 15 percent decrease in state funds to the university over a four- year period. Fully absorbing these cuts would have a harmful impact on our students and their educational experience.

I appreciate the opportunity for additional flexibility and management efficiencies that a public authority might bring, and would work hard to implement these effectively on our campus. It would be challenging, however, to engage in a major reorganization while also coping with a large budget cut.

The time-tested values of shared governance and tenure have made us strong and competitive. President Cross and Regent leadership have indicated that these values will continue to be honored through board policy.

As we learn more about the Governor’s proposal I will keep our campus community and governance groups informed. We will continue to advocate for funding levels and policies in the upcoming legislative session and budget debate that assure UW-Madison remains a top public research university.