15 Years of Declining UW Support
In real dollars state support of UW System has plummeted by one-third since 2001.
In 2016, the state provided $6,800 in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) support to the UW System per full-time equivalent student. That’s down more than a third from the $10,500 that the state provided to the UW System per student in 2001. Dollar amounts are from a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo and are adjusted for inflation; student FTEs are from the University of Wisconsin website.
The chart shows that steep cuts to the University of Wisconsin System are nothing new – indeed, they date back fifteen years. The difference is that in in the early 2000s, lawmakers allowed tuition to rise substantially at the same time as they cut GPR support. That increase in tuition cushioned the effects of the reductions in state support but also raised the price of a university education, pushing the cost of higher education out of reach for some struggling families.
In recent years, lawmakers have continued to reduce state support for the University of Wisconsin System, but have limited tuition increases or have frozen tuition. Limiting or preventing tuition increases helps keep college degrees affordable. But when combined with budget cuts, a tuition freeze reduces the resources the UW System needs to keep students in school, make sure they can graduate on time, and match them to careers in high-demand fields. Put another way, the combination of budget cuts and a tuition freeze make it more difficult for students to get the high-quality University of Wisconsin education they deserve.
The chart doesn’t include other sources of revenue for the UW System, like federal grants and private gifts. Those sources of money are often required to be spent on specific purposes and the UW System cannot use those resources to make up for the loss in state support or tuition revenue.
It’s not clear if Governor Walker plans to pursue additional large cuts for the University of Wisconsin System in the upcoming budget period that starts in July 2017. He has said that he will seek another tuition freeze and that the UW System should not expect additional money to offset the freeze. Governor Walker has also said he may seek additional performance-based funding for the UW system, but little is known about what that means.
Continuing to cut state support for the UW system will make it harder for students to get the degrees they need to be competitive in an advanced economy. UW System President Ray Cross summed up the situation in a recent column:
“[C]ontinued budget cuts and frozen tuition cannot be sustained…
More than 36,000 students graduate from the UW System each year – and more than 80 percent will stay in Wisconsin. These graduates work, raise families, and become productive taxpaying citizens. This infusion of highly educated graduates into Wisconsin’s workforce is essential to our economy.
Wisconsin is at a crossroads. We can choose either to invest in our future, in the future of our children, and in the future of our state, or we can give the university system a lower priority and put our future at risk. The choice is ours.”