In exchange for more autonomy for the university system.
As part of the UW plan, Walker would turn the system into a public authority. Walker will call in his budget for another two-year freeze on tuition for undergraduates who hail from Wisconsin. After that, the system will have the authority to increase tuition on its own.
UW President Ray Cross said the cuts are “substantial.” Still, he said the public authority status, similar to the relationship UW Hospital has with the state, would give the system the ability to manage on its own things like procurement and some building projects.
“These flexibilities will allow us to manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs,” Cross said. “The flexibilities also ensure our continued commitment to affordability, accessibility and quality educational experiences for our students and Wisconsin families.”
We have had this ongoing debate in Wisconsin about the relationship between the taxpayers and the university system. There is no question that the state university is a tremendous value for the state both in terms of educating the population and economic development. It is a critical piece of Wisconsin’s puzzle.
The taxpayers get frustrated when they see tuition rising sharply for their kids while they see the universities spending money on things seemingly unrelated to education. The taxpayers rightfully wonder why they are spending so much of the state’s resources on the universities if they are not using that money to fulfill a primary function of the system – to educate the kids of Wisconsin.
On the other side, the university wants more independence to make decisions without the oversight of the taxpayers. They argue that the university has many missions, including education, that they can better fulfill without state management.
Walker’s proposal seeks to meet some of both demands. It would give the university system more of the independence it wants while reducing the exposure of the taxpayers for those decisions.
One thing I don’t like about the plan is that it turns the funding for the university into a block grant that is indexed to inflation. This makes the funding more automatic to give certainty to the university officials, but it also makes the funding much more inaccessible to the legislature to change. One thing we don’t need in Wisconsin is another huge part of the state budget that is set aside to automatically increase without the active control of the legislature.
We will have to see more details of the plan as it unfolds. How much independence are we talking about? How will the cuts be spread out? We’ll have to see.