The state of Wisconsin reduced the funds allotted to the 13 UW Colleges for the purposes of balancing the state budget.
The $250 million cut was declared July 1, 2015 to be put into place Jan. 1. As a result, the UW Colleges had only six months to decide how to best use their reduced budget.
The downsizing has certainly had an immediate impact on student life. Where it was once possible to pay tuition at the Business Services Office on campus, there are now shuttered windows and a sign informing students that their bills must be paid online.
If a student has a question about their financial aid or the path to their degree, they are now required to submit a request to the “Solution Center.”
“[The Solution Center is an off-site hub] where students can get the complete or beginnings of answers that they need about financial aid and advising, and access to the types of services that they once saw somebody on the campus for all the time,” Regional Executive Officer and Dean Martin Rudd said.
According to Scott Richter, lecturer of business and economics at UW-Fox Valley, this budget reduction is the consequence of reduced and altered demographics of college students.
He said that in his years volunteering at middle schools in the Fox Valley, he has noticed a problematic trend: a reduced pool of K-12 students moving on to higher education. An additional lack of funds comes from the growing population of students with children and jobs. Their schedules vary from the lessening pool of traditional students.
To accommodate the cuts, the UW Colleges reduced their administrative funding by $5.6 million by implementing a “regionalization model.”
This required each of the 13 schools to transition from having a campus dean, an associate dean, a part time administrator, an assistant dean of student affairs and an assistant dean of administration, among other positions, consolidate. The campuses were placed in one of four regions, how having a representative regional officer and dean in every region, and a regional associate dean in each campus.
The decision to change to this regionalization model was made by committees comprised of UW Colleges staff, educators and student representatives.
Rudd, regional dean of the UW Colleges’ northeast region, explained why the cuts were made where they were.
“No budget reductions were made to instructional programs. We made a decision early on that we would not touch the number of professors that we have teaching, because we are primarily a teaching institution and teaching is our excellence,” Rudd said.
Rudd was not alone in attesting to the focus on preserving teaching positions. Provost Greg Lampe, one of the two executive co-sponsors to lead the current budget reduction indicated the importance of preserving the campus’ educational standards.
“A budget reduction of this magnitude required us to determine where cuts were possible, and which budget reductions would make the most sense. We decided to do the least harm possible to our academic program because we wanted to preserve the students’ educational experience to the fullest extent possible.
“Chancellor Sandeen decided to focus on administrative positions and functions to achieve the necessary budget reductions. We chose the areas and departments that we believed could be consolidated or regionalized to preserve the UW Colleges’ mission of providing access to higher education to students and position [them] for success for whatever is next for them.
“I believe we chose the areas where we saw opportunities for reductions without sacrificing our values of providing access, transfer opportunities, educational quality and affordability values. We were careful, thoughtful and deliberative in our approach to the budget reductions, and we had our experts from across the institution inform and guide the planning and implementation processes throughout our budget reduction work,” Lampe said.
“[Despite this attempt], reforming our student affairs offices and student support services was considered by many of our colleagues as controversial,” Lampe said. “Perhaps more than any other area of the budget reduction work, the downsizing and consolidation of student affairs and student support services created the most concern among our colleagues and students.”
The system itself, put into place at the start of this semester, has been described as “clunky” by Dean Rudd.
However, both he and Richter attest to the wisdom of allowing the system to be implemented and put through its paces before making any conclusions.
“I’d be cautious of rushing to judgment. Any major organizational change from a business standpoint is traumatic,” Richter said.