The Proposed New Badger Partnership: Implications for Equity and Diversity

This analysis, dated March 10, 2011, was produced by Sara Goldrick-Rab, Assistant Professor in Educational Policy Studies.   It is reproduced here with her permission.  – Editor


I have been asked by several campus committees to provide information on how the proposed New Badger Partnership (NBP) relates to the equity and diversity missions and goals of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  This memo is my response and is based on my research and experience teaching on higher education policy over the last decade. I have had to rely on the facts about the policy as provided by the Administration, and note that many important details are missing from those statements.  This memo is intended for informational purposes only.

Relevant Components of the NBP

The New Badger Partnership in its current form (e.g. as outlined in Governor Walker’s proposed budget) has many parts, including those related to governance and funding of the institution.  While the original NBP as described by Chancellor Martin last fall did not include a separation of UW-Madison from UW System, the current version does.  Thus that part is treated here as part of the NBP.

The NBP has different implications for the research, teaching, and service functions of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and of course different implications for other public universities across Wisconsin as well.  Since equity and diversity concerns relate to all three functions, I attempt to address them all here, but I generally confine my remarks to potential effects on Madison rather than other colleges and universities.  This is only in the interest of time—not an assessment of importance.

Debates rage over how to define the words “equity” and “diversity”, and the scope of those debates is also beyond what I can undertake in this memo.  I will use two broad, somewhat vague definitions here in an attempt to be inclusive.

By “equity” I mean a distribution of opportunities and resources based on fair criteria.  By fair, I take the usual definition that the criteria may not be directly and clearly shaped by ascriptive or discriminatory factors.
By “diversity” I simply mean heterogeneity.  Variation of all sorts can be construed as diversity, whereas homogeneity (of whatever kind) cannot.

Equity and diversity are most commonly talked about in terms of access (who is in, who is out), treatment (how people get along), and excellence (who reaches what ends). Therefore, in this memo I describe potential implications of the NBP for:

  • The composition of the undergraduate student body, the graduate student body, and the faculty
  • The relationships among and between students, faculty, and those outside of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • The excellence achieved by student and faculty.

There are several areas of UW-Madison’s work likely to be affected by the NBP that I am setting aside for now.  For example, I will not explicitly address potential effects on research productivity, grant funding, rankings nationally or internationally, staff composition, or the future funding from the state.

Throughout this memo my comments are grounded in empirical research, even where I do not provide full citations. I will be happy to provide references upon request, but have postponed doing so in the interest of time.  Wherever possible I have tried to articulate specific hypotheses that could be used to later evaluate my claims.

Implications of the NBP for the Composition of Key Constituencies

The NBP has several components that will very likely affect the composition of our undergrads, grads, and faculty:

  1. It will contribute to the continuation of increases in tuition, fees, and the costs associated with room and board, and will likely accelerate those increases over time.[1]
  2. It will accelerate the growth of resources for institutional need-based financial aid initially. Over time, the trajectory is less clear.[2]
  3. It will lead to significant changes in admissions practices.  For example, we can expect that admissions decisions will become “need-sensitive” rather than need-blind—meaning that ability to pay will be a consideration.  Furthermore, we can expect a lowering of admissions standards, particularly within the pool of the most-able to pay. We should also expect that the quota on the percent of residents will be lowered. [3]
  4. It may increase graduate student compensation and/or benefits and/or affect collective bargaining rights.[4]
  5. It may increase the retention rates of the undergraduate and graduate students admitted.[5]
  6. It may increase compensation of tenured faculty, increase the proportion of adjunct faculty, and in turn affect the recruitment and possibly the retention of  all faculty.[6]

My predictions about the corresponding equity and diversity effects of these changes are as follows:

  1. The NBP will gradually accelerate the following trends among entering undergraduates and graduates:
    1. Upward trajectory in average family income (decreasing economic diversity). This will stem from sticker shock (for more see below), decreases in the purchasing power of financial aid, and the perception of an elitist culture that would feel a “poor fit” for children from working-class families.
    2. Increased bifurcation in entering test scores and preparation—particularly according to residency status (decreasing equity, increasing diversity based on residency).
    3. Increased percentage of international students with the preponderance coming from a focused set of countries with greater concentration of able-to-pay families (increasing diversity based on nationality, race/ethnicity, but not socioeconomic background).
    4. Increased percentage of female students (decreasing gender diversity)
    5. Decreased percentage of transfer students.  This will stem not from changes in policies but rather than changes in perceptions.
  2. The NBP will gradually increase the proportion of entrants finishing college and/or graduate school, slightly reduce time-to-degree, and may decrease inequities in these metrics.
    1. These changes will stem from an overall “leveling up”—less heterogeneity often leads to greater equality of outcomes.
    2. Changes in time-to-degree may come from the increased institutional resources and/or from the increased expense of staying on longer.
  3. The NBP will increase the diversity of faculty on campus, while decreasing equity among those faculty members. We will be more competitive on the market for stars, but also more reliant on adjuncts.

To summarize, I expect that the campus will diversify on some dimensions (particularly race/ethnicity, country of origin, and state of residency) while becoming much more homogenous on others (e.g. socioeconomic background). Further, I expect that the rising tide will lift some kinds of boats (e.g. degree completion, research productivity) while sinking others (the status of adjuncts).

These changes will have effects on how people get along on the campus.  Students will be more alike in some ways, and increasingly different on others.  The competition over resources and status will intensify, not subside.  The inequities among students based on academic abilities will cause some to feel resentful of the admission of others.  Faculty will be unhappy with the nonresidents, increasingly so over time. Adjuncts will be even unhappier with the tenured faculty.

I conclude with a few predictions for the equity and diversity of the other 12 public universities in the state. Equity and diversity in the composition of students at the other campuses will improve at the same time that average degree completion rates decline and inequities in degree completion increase. These changes will be due to:

  1. A gradual downward redistribution of modestly, or even highly, talented residents of few financial means.   These students will crowd-out other students from the increasingly scarce institutional resources, and while the high-achievers will have lowered prospects for graduation because they are under-matched (e.g. attending a college with lower average ACT scores compared to their own), modest-achievers will have even lower prospects—increasing graduation rate gaps.
  2. A decline in rates of university attendance among the working-class due to a growing perception that college is unaffordable.  The sticker price of Madison will come to dominate children’s imaginations of “what college costs” and they will fail to distinguish that price from the price of other state universities. Despite the Chancellor’s optimism, campaigns designed to combat sticker shock have no record of success.

[1] Currently these are determined by the Board of Regents, which considers the full complement of institutions and their students in the UW System. Under the public authority model they will be set by UW-Madison’s board.  Regardless of who sits on that board, we should expect that tuition will increase—since it has been increased every year and under every political party for many years.  I expect the pace of increases to accelerate as the state continues—or accelerates—its disinvestment in Madison over time.  This will also occur as Madison further engages in a competitive global race for excellence, and enrolls an increasingly able-to-pay student body.  This is consistent with trends observed in Virginia and Michigan, for example.  Madison will test the “tolerance” of students to its new prices, and when observing “no response” will ratchet up the increases.  No response will be noted because the counterfactual will be near impossible to observe, given the state’s lack of a longitudinal data system, Madison’s future non-participation in UW System’s data collection, and additional statistical challenges.  It will also be an artifact of altered admissions practices.

[2] To her credit, the Chancellor articulates a commitment to increasing institutional need-based financial aid and has grown the monies available for that aid over time.  But the need for financial aid depends on the sticker price charged—the higher the price, the more aid needed.  The demand is likely to outstrip the supply, and the investment in the supply will likely diminish when the institution is no longer able to find enough able-to-pay students without lowering admissions standards beyond the level the faculty will tolerate.  Thus, over time, I expect the commitment to increasing aid to match tuition increases will erode (and it could also erode under different leadership.) Furthermore, the receipt of aid requires completion of the voluntary, highly complex aid application (FAFSA), and has never been shown to offset the effects of “sticker shock.”

[3] These changes will be justified by the Administration as an appropriate response to the increasing costs of funding needy students.  Thus, it will be explained as a rationale for increasing campus diversity.  Further, changes will be justified on the basis of “holistic admissions”—meaning that we will move to considering the “full package” rather than just test scores, which while sounding like a way to admit needier students, will instead act to keep them out.  This will be done in the name of acting ethically—to avoid admitting students who “cannot succeed.”  These justifications are not supported by research, which consistently shows that students perform better when attending institutions that seem above their ability levels.

[4] Overall, the expected increases in resources should in theory raise the pay of graduate students—however, there is some evidence that academic capitalism (which this policy is a form of) resulting in a heavier reliance on adjunct faculty and poorly paid graduate TA’s.  Also, the effects of the end of collective bargaining for public employees are unclear.

[5] Retention and graduation rates are directly related to admissions decisions and higher rates are observed at selective institutions when the average family income is higher.  However, no effect will be observed if a trend in higher average family income is offset by a reduction in selectivity.

[6] See note 4. Also,  I anticipate that retention will be slightly higher on average for faculty who are better-paid, and lower on average among adjuncts who feeling demoralized because of the growth in pay inequity.

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5 Responses to The Proposed New Badger Partnership: Implications for Equity and Diversity

  1. Sara says:

    Thanks for posting! I have also analyzed trends in state spending on higher education over time, as well as UW-Madison’s spending on instruction and research. Those reports are up on my website:

  2. Sam says:

    I’d be interested in seeing these same areas of analysis put if the plan is not implemented, just for juxtaposition purposes.

  3. tobias says:

    I propose that we end the use of the gimmick-rich phrase, New Badger Partnership, and use the real politic language of Public Authority and all that it entails.
    All of the wonderful liberal sentiments and buzz words (FLEXIBILITY) of the NBP has foundered on the shores of Walker’s budget.
    In short, the NBP DOES NOT EXIST and never will. It is not proposed by the Governor. The Public Authority is what is before us. The more writers/readers here continue to debate the NBP the longer we will avoid the political reality:
    NBP was a PR campaign that brought us to the Martin-created/ Walker-run, Public Authority.

  4. Kristopher Irizarry-Hoeksema says:

    Thank you for this. My new publication policy week will be doing a very keen article on this and the implications for other states.

  5. Pingback: Equity and Diversity Implications of the NBP | The EduOptimists

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