Rich Kremer

UWM Offers Another Employee Buyout

Faces $7 million budget hole. Second buyout since 2015.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Mar 4th, 2020 10:24 am
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UWM. Photo by Gretchen Brown/WPR.

UWM. Photo by Gretchen Brown/WPR.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will offer buyouts to senior faculty members who retire early in order to help close a $7 million budget hole caused, in part, by declining enrollment. It will mark the second time the campus has offered buyouts to cut costs and reduce the size of faculty and staff since 2015.

In a letter sent Monday to faculty and staff, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone announced that 2019 fall enrollment numbers had fallen below projections resulting in a revenue loss of about $7 million. On top of that, Mone said pay raises for UW System employees approved by state lawmakers last year require the university to come up with 30 percent of that cost.

Mone told employees that the campus would be rolling out a “voluntary separation incentive program” this year.

“Our committed and successful people are UWM’s single most important asset,” wrote Mone. “We are grateful for the vital role our faculty and staff play in the success of our students and UWM. Thus, it will be unfortunate to see valued people leave.”

In an interview with WPR, UW-Milwaukee Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs Robin Van Harpen said a seven-year freeze on resident tuition increases means the university and the entire UW System has been forced to adsorb inflationary costs. She said for UW-Milwaukee, it’s akin to an annual cut of between $2 million and $3 million.

Van Harpen said this year’s buyout program is different than one offered five years ago because it will be more targeted. She said in 2015 senior staff who qualified across campus could opt into the program. Those who qualified got 50 percent of their annual base salary to retire early.

Van Harpen said this year’s incentives will be in the same amount, but the offerings will be targeted toward specific employees based on input from deans and other administrators in UW-Milwaukee’s colleges, schools and divisions.

“Each individual unit will kind of review the numbers of people who are eligible for retirements and then decide which positions could be vacated and then that will result in significant ongoing budget savings,” said Van Harpen.

Because administrators are just beginning the process, Van Harpen said the campus doesn’t have specifics about how many people may be offered buyouts or how much may be saved as a result.

In the chancellor’s budget announcement a number of investments aimed at boosting enrollment numbers were also mentioned.

Mone said UW-Milwaukee will boost scholarships by $2.3 million per year paid for by fundraising revenues. He said the campus will also continue offering $250,000 in student retention grants and offering $727,000 in new need-based financial aid for qualifying students starting this fall.

Van Harpen said student retention is vital for improving student graduation rates and also helps the university have a more stable base of tuition revenue.

“We have those students here,” Van Harpen said. “If we can keep them that adds to the enrollment in the second, third and fourth years and there’s more potential impact there based on the numbers of students that we do naturally see leave than increasing the freshman class given the state demographic issues.”

Kathleen Dolan is a distinguished professor of political science at UW-Milwaukee who chairs the executive committee of the campus’s faculty senate. She said the revenue shortfall and proposed buyouts aren’t surprising in light of projected enrollment declines across higher education in the United States. Dolan said no one on campus is happy about budget cuts or losing faculty and staff. But she said any savings can be redirected on campus.

“If we are able to save money by having people take the separation opportunity it is less money that has to come out of programming budgets or curricular budgets,” Dolan said. “If we didn’t use this tool then we’re making deeper budget cuts across campus for next year.”

UW-Milwaukee isn’t the only campus that has offered buyouts for early retirement as a means to save money. Since the Republican led state Legislature cut $250 million from the UW System budget, buyouts have also been offered at UW-Superior, UW-Stout, UW-Green Bay, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Oshkosh.

UW-Milwaukee To Offer Employee Buyouts For Second Time Since 2015 was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Categories: Education

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