Bascom Hill

Two students study on Bascom Hill in front of Bascom Hall and the "W" crest banners, with Van Hise Hall and Carillon Tower in the background.

Michael Forster Rothbart, UW Madison

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank is right: It’s time to reinvest in Wisconsin’s universities after a $250 million cut in the last state budget.

The governor and Legislature should include the UW Board of Regents’ modest request for $42.5 million in additional funding over the next two years. That’s about a 1 percent increase in taxpayer support for the 2017-2018 school year, and a 2 percent increase in 2018-2019.

Continuing Gov. Scott Walker’s tuition freeze makes sense, too, given the high cost of college and the need for more graduates in Wisconsin’s workforce.

The Regents just approved flat in-state tuition for one more year, followed by an increase no greater than inflation. A two-year extension of the freeze would be better, with an additional $7.5 million from the state to offset the absence of higher tuition in the 2018-19 school year.

Lots of state lawmakers from both political parties sound supportive so far of the Regents’ request. That’s good to hear. The $42.5 million increase would be for all University of Wisconsin System schools, not just UW-Madison.

Along with the governor, the Legislature should remember that state support for higher education has been slipping for decades. When adjusted for inflation, state support is the lowest it has been in the UW System’s more than 40-year history, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

It’s time to turn that around. Other states were investing in their universities as Wisconsin leaders were imposing a giant cut.

UW tuition for in-state students has been capped since 2013. The cap was welcome because it followed years of annual growth of more than 5 percent. And student debt had doubled over 30 years, even when adjusted for inflation.

But state leaders went too far with cuts to UW System after learning about high reserve funds. Those reserves have been significantly reduced over the last two budgets. And higher education has taken a real hit, affecting students and the state’s workforce.

UW-Madison, for example, eliminated 420 positions and laid off 50 employees over the past year as part of $50 million in cuts, Blank just reported. Many hourly jobs for students that provided income and experience are gone. And fewer advisers and classes can mean longer stays in college, increasing cost.

“Our peers, our competitors, are investing in new programs, new research centers, new educational experiments and opportunities,” Blank said. “The result is, we’ve slipped in the past two years.”

She’s right.

Wisconsin is facing a shortage of skilled and educated workers because its population is graying and because it doesn’t attract and keep enough college graduates. To compete and succeed in the global economy, more investment in higher education is required.

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