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Wisconsin public universities face challenging financial futures, according to reports • Wisconsin Examiner

University of Wisconsin schools are facing challenging financial futures without major changes, according to recent campus financial reports.

Several factors have led to campuses’ financial difficulties including declining state support on an inflation-adjusted basis over the last decade, the impacts of the decade-long tuition freeze that ended in 2022, declining enrollment and inflation.

The UW system employed Deloitte as a third-party consultant to conduct financial assessments of the individual campuses. Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman said in a statement that the assessments are part of the work being done to help eliminate structural deficits throughout the system by 2028, and ensure the state’s campuses are financially viable and durable. However, he also said that additional investment from the state of Wisconsin is needed to ensure the system’s future success.

Reports for seven campuses — including UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Superior and UW-Whitewater — were released on Thursday.

Rothman noted that several campuses are already in the process of making decisions to get schools on a healthier financial track. Those decisions have come in the form of voluntary buyouts, layoffs and furloughs at UW-Parkside, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville. UW-Green Bay has considered eliminating several majors and minors. 

However, some of the reports noted that further changes at the campuses are likely necessary. For example, UW-Green Bay’s report warned that campus leadership should “act with urgency to steer the University on a path of financial sustainability.” 

“Green Bay has recognized these challenges and made budget reductions; however, absent further changes to the status quo, the university will struggle to resolve its deficit as the state participation rate declines and the traditional college applicant pool in Wisconsin shrinks; these trends could result in depletion of the tuition fund balance by FY27,” the report stated.

UW-Oshkosh’s report noted that the school has implemented a plan that uses furloughs, voluntary retirement incentives, layoffs, elimination of open positions and academic workload adjustments to address its structural deficit, but additional savings will be needed for fiscal year 2025 and beyond. It said that “fresh approaches to student recruitment and retention are needed to help secure a viable future” for the school, and its academic portfolio may need refinement and it could consider being more transfer-friendly. 

University administrators said there were certain themes in the opportunities that will be available to schools including improving student retention, leveraging schools’ core strengths, implementing direct admissions and expanding dual enrollment and continuing education programs.

However, Rothman acknowledged that funding from the state of Wisconsin will play a deciding role in the system’s financial future, and the type of education that can be afforded across the state.

“While we will do our part on the expense side of the ledger, ultimately it is up to the state to decide whether it wants and can afford a weakened Universities of Wisconsin. The adage is that you get what you pay for,” Rothman said. He noted Wisconsin’s current funding for its public universities ranks 42nd in the country. 

Rothman said that level of funding “will eventually get you a 42nd ranked university system. Wisconsin deserves better than that.”

It would take about $440 million to bring the state to the median level of funding. 

Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement that the reports are the result of Republican lawmakers’ inadequate funding to Wisconsin’s public university campuses, and that he would be requesting additional funding in the next budget cycle. 

“Republican lawmakers have spent more than a decade waging war on public education in Wisconsin, including our UW System and higher education institutions,” Evers said, “and have consistently refused to make the necessary, meaningful investments our state and our campuses desperately need to compete and that our students deserve.”

Evers committed to asking for additional funding from the state Legislature in the next budget cycle. In the latest state budget, UW schools didn’t receive a funding increase from the Legislature. 

“The Legislature must step up, and that’s what I’ll be asking them to do once again in my next proposed budget,” Evers said.

Reports for the state’s remaining campuses and Universities of Wisconsin Administration — excluding UW-Madison, which doesn’t have a structural deficit and carries a healthy reserve — will be prepared in the summer and fall.

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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2024%2F04%2F12%2Fwisconsin-public-universities-face-challenging-financial-futures-according-to-reports%2F by Baylor Spears

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