Gov. Scott Walker will include new funding for the University of Wisconsin System that will be tied to how it performs in certain measures as part of his next budget proposal, a spokesman said Tuesday after UW officials laid out their request for tens of millions of dollars in new state support.
But Walker still plans to call for extending the freeze on in-state tuition that the head of the UW System is asking legislators to end in the coming budget, spokesman Tom Evenson said.
UW System President Ray Cross released an outline of the system’s budget request Tuesday morning, calling for a $42.5 million funding increase over two years for programs that Cross says will help students graduate sooner and strengthen Wisconsin’s economy.
Evenson said Walker will include some new funding for the system in the 2017-19 budget proposal he will release early next year. But it’s not clear how much new money the governor will seek for UW — Evenson said it’s too early in the budget-writing process to say — and the funding will come with still-unspecified strings attached.
“It will be tied to performance metrics to help ensure students are receiving the greatest value for their hard-earned money,” Evenson said.
Some hints about performance measures
Walker has not said what criteria would be used to measure UW’s performance, although Evenson highlighted a section of a column from the governor last week in which he mentioned tracking data on graduation rates, the amount of loans students take out and graduate employment in certain fields.
Evenson also said UW will see a $50 million increase in its base budget over the next two years after a $25 million lapse in annual state funding this year. System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis responded by pointing out that UW is not asking for an $88 million cost-to-continue increase that it has sought in prior budget requests.
State funding makes up about $1.05 billion of the System’s $6.2 billion annual operating budget this fiscal year.
Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, was skeptical about tying UW’s funding to performance categories, saying she did not want to see the value of the university system reduced to how many graduates it produces in a handful of industries.
Hesselbein, who sits on the Assembly’s higher education committee, supports UW’s budget request and said any further cuts to its funding would threaten the system’s quality.
“We’re at a crossroads for how the university is going to be going forward, and what kind of education people are going to be receiving,” she said.
“We just can’t keep cutting the university and think we’re going to get the same results,” Hesselbein said.
Cross said Monday that he wants to work with Walker to develop the new performance-based funding criteria, and said UW already has data measuring many of the categories the governor mentioned.
About 10 percent of UW’s requested budget increase would be in the form of performance-based funding, Cross said.
Walker seeks extended tuition freeze
Walker and university officials seem further apart on the question of keeping tuition at UW institutions frozen in the next budget.
The UW budget request, which will go before the system’s Board of Regents next week, seeks an end to the freeze that has been in place since 2013.
Cross said any tuition increase that could happen as a result would be “modest.”
But Walker has championed the freeze as a commitment to college affordability, and says he will look to keep it in place.
“One of Governor Walker’s top goals is to make college more affordable for students and working families, which is why he has called for extending the historic tuition freeze,” Evenson said.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, a frequent UW critic and vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, blasted the idea of lifting the cap and raising tuition.
“Extending the UW System tuition freeze is a clear choice for legislators,” Nass said in a statement. “You can stand with Wisconsin’s middle-class families or you can bow to the desires of out-of-touch university administrators earning six-digit salaries.”
Hesselbein said she supports continuing the tuition freeze as well, but called for greater state funding to make up for the cost to UW of keeping tuition flat.
Echoing an argument from UW faculty members, she said, “You have to fund the freeze.”