Ray Cross (copy)

UW System President Ray Cross

M.P. KING -- State Journal

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross is asking the Board of Regents to approve a budget request that asks for $42.5 million in state funding for a package of expanded efforts to keep college affordable and develop the state’s future workforce.

Dubbed “2020FWD: Moving Wisconsin and the World Forward,” the plan includes ramped-up efforts to enable more state residents to earn UW credits, improve students' academic experience and expand collaboration with businesses, communities, local governments and nonprofit organizations. It also calls for continued greater accountability and efficiency in academic and administrative processes.

The initiative responds directly to concerns from Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature that the university system should focus more on education that supports state workforce needs.

Regents are expected to adopt the proposed budget when they meet in Madison on Thursday. They are required by law to submit a budget request to the state by Sept. 15.

Providing more college credit options for high school students and responding to the needs of working adult students through the UW Flexible Option, which gives credit for work and other experience, will allow students to get a degree more quickly — and at a lower cost — according to a news release on the 2020FWD initiative.

Walker wrote to state agency heads in July telling them not to expect new funding in the 2017-2019 biennial budget. The hold-the-line budget follows a $250 million cut for the UW System in 2015-2107 that forced staff reductions and other cost-saving measures on campuses.

The proposed new initiative can be funded from savings in UW’s “cost-to-continue” funding, typically operating budget increases to cover rising utility and fringe benefits costs that averaged $88 million over the past six state biennial budgets, according to the news release.

“The UW System will not be asking for cost-to-continue because utilities are expected to stay flat and less staff means less fringe benefit costs. The new 2020FWD initiatives can be funded with the cost-to-continue savings,” officials said in the news release.

In a video posted online by the UW System, Cross said that 2020FWD is bold in its simplicity.

“We need a more educated workforce,” he said. And the initiative is designed get more people into and through college and connected to jobs and careers in Wisconsin, he said.

Among its goals are “to create a more dynamic learning environment in the classroom, to enhance to enhance and expand research,” Cross said.

“How then can UW play a role in making Wisconsin the most innovative state in the U.S.?” he asked. The answer is in mobilizing businesses and communities, he said.

“How do we present to the people of the state a more effective Wisconsin Idea?” Cross asked. By listening to the people, bringing their needs to campus for research and analysis, and then sharing the findings with communities and businesses across the state, he said.

Walker on Thursday said again he will ask the Legislature to tie an increase in the 2017-2019 budget to performance metrics, "such as the number of graduates and how many graduates actually find work." Walker spokesperson Tom Evenson said Monday he could not elaborate, because "it would be premature to discuss details related to policy specifics as we are in the early stages of budget development." 

An executive summary of the UW System budget request released this week calls for a continuation of performance measures identified for collection, but not tied to funding increases, in the current budget:

  • Undergraduate Degrees (conferred).
  • Participation Rate: the percentage of Wisconsin high school graduates who enroll immediately after graduation.
  • Retention Rate: the rate at which new freshmen return to the same institution for a second year of study.
  • Graduation Rate: rate at which new freshmen earn a bachelor’s degree at the same institution within six years.

UW System provosts are working with James Henderson, vice president for academic and student affairs to determine which metrics would be recommended for performance funding, according to the executive summary.

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