Badgers United Panel Discussion: Wisconsin Leaders & The Future of UW Madison FAQ

Learn more from our panel experts

Explain the decision-making authority (sharing arrangement/governance) when the state of Wisconsin has a minority investment of 15%?

When compared to its peers,  UW-Madison is governed differently. The Wisconsin Policy Form’s recent study on higher education, Falling Behind? The state of Wisconsin’s public universities and colleges highlights that most states give greater autonomy to their public flagship university in terms of governance. UW-Madison reports to a larger governing board with statutory, rather than constitutional, authority. It is also part of a comprehensive statewide system that includes all other public four-year institutions in the state.  Such governance affects the ways our flagship is able to operate. Even though the state of Wisconsin only invests 15%, they have the control and decision-making authority over UW-Madison.

What strategies could be employed throughout the UW System to react to Wisconsin’s declining population problem in the coming years?

There are multiple strategies to address the declining population, which directly affects enrollment. One strategy includes making a greater shift from in-person instruction to online instruction. This will give students more access to education and flexibility to the institution. Another strategy includes making it easier for students to jump to 4-year universities. The Wisconsin Policy Forum study points out that Wisconsin ranks last in student transfers between its technical colleges and four-year institutions. Having a clearer understanding and system for credits to transfer will keep students motivated and focused. Finally,  understanding and focusing on a diverse student and faculty population—which includes various backgrounds, economic statuses, ethnicities, genders, and thought. This benefits students to feel welcomed and better equipped to learn. 

Through these various strategies, UW System and UW-Madison would proactively address the issue of declining population and enrollment. 

Where does UW Madison rank in the Big Ten in the amount of student loan debt that an undergrad leaves with? How much will this ranking be affected if UW Madison was able to raise their tuition to an amount of their liking?

There are good actors and bad actors in student debt – UW-Madison is a good actor. More than half of UW-Madison students graduate with ZERO student debt. While the national default rate is 10.2%, UW-Madison’s is 1.3%. The Wisconsin Policy Forum found that the average federal student loan debt for borrowers in Wisconsin ranked 44th lowest among the 50 states. When compared to the state’s neighbors, Wisconsin was second-lowest (Iowa was lower than Wisconsin). Current policy proposals are looking at keeping tuition chained to CPI (inflation) to ensure that costs do not increase rapidly. With this approach, unfreezing tuition will provide desperately needed revenue for UW-Madison all while having minimal impact on student loan debt. 

What tools are available to help citizens advocate for UW-Madison?

There are several tools available for citizens in Wisconsin or living outside of the state to advocate for UW-Madison. This includes: joining the Badgers United and UW Foundation mailing list, visit My Vote WI to find their legislator. Small actions add up, and when all citizens work together to advocate for UW-Madison, it sends a powerful message to those in charge of the future of our flagship to behave responsibly and be accountable. 

What specific policies should the legislature and Governor Evers put forth to raise funding and how would they fund it?

There are three legislative changes that would directly help not only UW-Madison but the state of Wisconsin: ending the tuition freeze,  increasing state support and giving UW-Madison flexibility. Wisconsin has slashed significant investment for our flagship university. In 1974, 43% of funding for UW-Madison came from the state, now it is less than 15%. When compared to its peers, our flagship university is behind by a significant margin. In the last seven years, UW-Madison had the third-lowest in-state undergraduate tuition increase among 35 public research universities and had the largest cut in state support from 2013 to 2018 (the most recent year for those figures). The in-state undergraduate tuition freeze has restricted a key funding stream for higher education, depriving the university of desperately needed funding. The revenue cuts from the ongoing global pandemic have only amplified the deficit. With UW-System taking a disproportionate share of cuts in June 2020, there is no room to take on more financial cuts.  

Legislative reforms offer solutions in the short term while maintaining UW-Madison’s powerful economic impact to drive the state’s recovery during the financial crisis created by COVID-19. Longer-term, legislative action must occur to drive UW-Madison’s positive statewide economic impact, protect the institution’s financial security and maintain the world-class academic and research programs standing.

What role does research standing play in attracting the top-level faculty that write the grants to attract the outside research funding? Do we also risk losing these top-level faculty to other institutions?

In 2010, UW-Madison’s Research & Development ranking was 3rd. Now, in the latest National Science Foundation research ranking, UW-Madison is 8th. The decline in our rankings should be alarming to all of Wisconsin given the great statewide economic benefits that come from R&D spending. In addition, the decline in ranking may turn away top-level faculty. The Wisconsin Policy Forum’s study points out that tenured professors’ salaries still trail their peers. In 2019, full professor salaries were 11% below the median peer salary. These factors could contribute to potential researchers, professors and even students rejecting UW-Madison and going to competing universities. 

As a business with rising costs, how do we convince the legislature to remove the constraints of tuition? 

The tuition freeze is a tough subject to discuss, but the data is clear. The outdated tuition freeze prevents students, who are able, from paying fair market value for their education. This deprives the University of necessary funding, despite research demonstrating that the investment in a 4-year education is still an excellent economic decision. 

Current legislative solutions recommend small sustainable increases that provide predictability for families and the University. Tuition needs to be thawed and indexed to the cost of inflation, a move that would provide certainty to all parties. In order to achieve changes in the tuition, engaged citizens and alumni need to speak with elected officials to urge action. 

Since 2011, WPF reports UW system has experienced a 13% decline in enrollment- twice the national average. What challenges does this present to UW System and how do they address this trendline?

With upcoming enrollment declines, there are multiple challenges facing the UW System including less revenue and a decline of an economic impact. We must ensure that every university and school is accomplishing and maximizing its mission. We make sure that there are funding resources for every student who is able to go to school and that each campus is not wasting resources. Small steps and a proactive approach will make sure the UW System is prepared for the eventuality. 

The proud tradition of the Wisconsin idea is threatened by lagging public support for higher education. What can the University do to restore the public’s support?

Restoring the public’s support and keeping the proud tradition of the Wisconsin Idea begins with awareness of the data. UW-Madison is an economic engine for Wisconsin, contributing $30.8 billion to the economy -generating more than $1 billion in local and state taxes. For every dollar invested into UW-Madison, $26 is returned. When UW-Madison succeeds, Wisconsin succeeds. But current Wisconsin policy is leading to a decline in education, a negative economic impact on the state, and ranking loss for Wisconsin higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the decline, creating a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars. When UW-Madison hurts, Wisconsin hurts. Legislative reforms (i.e. increasing state funding, ending the tuition freeze and giving our flagship financial flexibility) offer aid in the short term while maintaining UW-Madison’s powerful economic impact to drive the state’s recovery during the financial crisis created by COVID-19. Longer-term, legislative action must occur to drive UW-Madison’s positive statewide economic impact, protect the institution’s financial security and maintain the world-class academic and research programs standing.

I’ve been doing advocacy through WAA for years and know there are some legislators who work hard to diminish the value of the UWNow, with this increased polarised legislature, I worry that our voices won’t be heard because of politics, not the needs of the state. Suggestions on how we can be more effective?

Badgers United is a coalition of Wisconsin residents who are passionate for UW-Madison to succeed. We come from various backgrounds, work in diverse fields, and hold multiple viewpoints, but we all without a doubt agree that UW-Madison is critical to the success of this great state. We’re leading the conversation on creating a stable, financially healthy UW-Madison — and therefore, Wisconsin. Organizations like ours can help make sure UW-Madison gets what it deserves by cutting through the political rhetoric with data. 

In regards to the “private business” comparison, is it not fair to counter that if the UW-System were run privately, it would not have 13 campuses still open when almost all of them have falling enrollment, some dramatically so?

Higher education is not a business but that does not mean we ought to ignore the insights of a business approach. In a time of limited dollars and the addition of a global pandemic, there are practical solutions to help higher education altogether. We can give UW-Madison greater flexibility while making sure the other campuses are still receiving their needs to make the best economic impact possible. In addition, there needs to be responsibility and accountability to oversee policy changes during times when they are not fulfilling their mission.