As the parent of a junior at UW-Madison, I want my son to have a great education for a reasonable price. As governor, I want that for every college student in Wisconsin.
That is why I am proud to have signed into law four straight years of tuition freezes for resident undergrad students in the University of Wisconsin System. The freeze has saved the average student more than $6,000 in tuition costs over four years compared to where it was headed during the decade before the freeze. This helps make college more affordable for students and working families.
Ironically, resolutions passed by faculty on several UW campuses include language about the affordability of higher education. They also reference changes to the UW System budget. Where were these resolutions years ago when Gov. Jim Doyle cut $250 million from the UW System? The difference is Gov. Doyle allowed the System to make up most of it on the backs of students through higher tuition.
In fact, tuition went up 118 percent during the decade before our four-year tuition freeze. That amounts to an increase of more than 8 percent per year. Where was the outrage then?
In addition, it is important to note the System’s total annual operating budget is today the largest it has ever been. That’s right, even with the adjustments from state government, which account for about 2 percent of the entire budget, the overall budget is bigger than at any time in UW history.
So why are so many UW faculty upset? Well, the new rules also allow UW officials to shift resources to areas in greater student demand, should the need arise. Setting priorities based on a budget is a common sense practice, and it is one Wisconsin families and businesses are engaged in every single day.
Our university system should be no exception. Instead of keeping a course where a handful of students sign up, campuses can reassign resources to help students get the courses they need to graduate on time. Most of us would call that common sense. If the decision to discontinue any academic program will result in the layoff of a professor, a faculty committee can review it.
The new rules also provide greater accountability for professors and subject them to performance-based reviews. According to UW-Madison’s website, a student from Wisconsin enrolled for the 2016-2017 academic year will have estimated costs totaling more than $25,000. The costs for a non-resident student are more than $48,000.
If a student is paying more than $100,000 or nearly $200,000 for four years of college, I believe we should hold performance-based reviews of professors for the sake of our students. If a professor isn’t meeting expectations, the new policy requires UW campuses to support professional development opportunities so the professor can improve his or her performance. This is not only good for students, it allows professors to improve as well.
Despite the doom-and-gloom rhetoric, we didn’t eliminate tenure. We eliminated the “job for life” guarantee tenure once provided for faculty regardless of performance. Now we are asking for accountability and flexibility to add value to our university system. As for free speech, there should be equal protections for everyone on campus, not just tenured professors, to engage in a free and open debate of ideas.
The bottom line is students deserve access to high quality education that is affordable for them and the working families that help support them. We must look to deliver value and excellence to Wisconsin, not guarantee “job for life” tenure. The common sense reforms recently enacted do just that.