Last week, Governor Tony Evers introduced a very promising UW System budget proposal for the next biennium. It includes – among other plans – a robust reinvestment in higher education, more funding for financial aid, targeted investment in high-demand majors to promote workforce development, and a much-needed pay plan that will keep our faculty and staff from falling further behind their peers at other institutions.
This is only a proposal and (as discussed below) it’s not clear how the legislature will respond to these proposals or what the final budget will contain in higher education funding. But the Governor’s budget is a starting point.
As I’ve said many times, budgets demonstrate priorities. It’s clear the governor, a career educator, understands that spending on education yields a strong return on investment, and a strong higher education system is a driver of the economy statewide.
The UW changes lives. This plan to reinvest recognizes the potential for our students, faculty, staff and alumni to positively impact our communities around the state.
Systemwide, the budget proposal has $45 million for capacity building initiatives that promote workforce development and expand student success and attainment. At UW-Madison, the funding would be used to expand four programs that have not been able to keep up with the strong growth in student demand, and where employer demand is also soaring.
This includes our computer science program, where additional funds would help us create a new undergraduate degree in data science, add 2,000 seats in high-demand classes and graduate between 800 and 1,000 more students over the next five years in these areas.
In engineering, we’d use the funding to develop new courses, ease course bottlenecks and expand student enrollment with the goal of graduating 650 more engineers over the next five years. We would also target funding to attract and retain more underrepresented students to the program.
In the business school, the capacity-building funding would be used to create 300 additional student spots for undergraduate majors and enhance our offering of high-demand online business courses. Finally, we would use these funds to add 40 new spots in our nursing program (a 25 percent increase) to help address the statewide nursing shortage and update our nursing education technology.
Overall, the proposal provides $150 million in additional funding to the UW System. About $50 million of that is to fund the cost of continuing the freeze on undergraduate resident tuition. While our tuition may be frozen, our costs are not frozen and I appreciate the governor’s plan to allocate funds to cover the increasing costs our campus faces. That said, I believe that eight years of a tuition freeze is too long and this is simply not sustainable much longer.
The budget includes a boost of $17.4 million to the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) for need-based grants to resident undergraduate students, helping more students gain access to a degree. One of my major priorities is to make UW-Madison affordable to all students who are admitted. I applaud the governor for proposing to help fund access for more students.
The proposal also includes funding to provide a 2 percent compensation increase for state employees – including UW System employees – on January 1, 2020, and an additional two percent on January 1, 2021.
This budget is far from finished. The Joint Finance Committee will consider the budget next, and their proposed budget will have to pass the full legislature before going back to the governor again for his signature. As you know, a number of legislative leaders have suggested that they will start from scratch on their own budget and not use the governor’s budget as the starting point.
We’ll see where we are when a final budget passes next summer. But in the meantime, it’s good to have an initial proposal from the governor that recognizes the importance of the UW System to the state of Wisconsin, and that makes investments in higher education.
Additional information about the state budget proposal and process can be found at www.budget.wisc.edu.