This is what the public authority looks like and it isn’t pretty.

One area in which both the proponents and opponents of public authority status (not actually the same as the New Badger Partnership) have been curiously silent is on undergraduate enrollment controls.  Board of regents policy requires that UW-Madison maintain an enrollment of roughly 75% Badgers (including Gophers) and 25% out-of-state students.  Will this same split be required by the proposed board of trustees? The chancellor has promised that the number of places for Wisconsin students won’t be reduced, but has said nothing about whether the percentages will change.

For many years, unwritten campus policy has limited the number of students on the UW-Madison campus to around 41,000.  Will the trustees also support that limit? Don’t know! It is well known that Chancellor Martin was open to significantly increasing the number of undergrads on the Madison campus in response to President Riley’s initiative to create more college graduates for Wisconsin.

The chancellor has also stated that tuition will not be allowed to skyrocket, yet it is quite clear that under the public authority the State of Wisconsin will never again contribute to a pay plan for UW-Madison employees.  How are we then to remain competitive on a global basis, the rationale for the public authority as proclaimed by the chancellor?

Let’s take the chancellor at her word; 1) no reduction in the number of places for Wisconsin students, 2) tuition won’t skyrocket, 3) maintain global competitiveness of UW-Madison.

How can these three things be accomplished? It is so simple, you must have seen this coming, just drop the 75% rule (the chancellor has been silent on this). Increase each incoming class by 1000 out of state students. After four years we will have increased the student body by 10%, and our yearly revenue by 4,000 students x ~$25,000 tuition ($100,000,000 in increased revenue!). Brilliant! Problem solved! Everyone will be happy!  Or will they? (For one answer, see UW Gives Us What We Ask For)

Where will four thousand additional students live (in dorms privatized by the new board of trustees?) and how will the influx affect access to critical classes and time to degree?  If 25% of these students are interested in biology, where are the seats in intro bio or organic chemistry? I would be interested to know if the chair of chemistry, who supports the public authority or perhaps simply the New Badger Partnership (I never get those straight) knows where he will put these students. And who will advise these extra students (by all accounts we’re not doing a great job now)?

Will we as a campus be willing to accept that more students might not be able to achieve their goals, more students might well be here for five or six years, or more students might never graduate?  This campus has worked long and hard to provide a first class education to our students, to increase access, and decrease time to graduation. It will be a great shame if we forfeit this in a paroxysm of short term self aggrandizement.

Colleagues, this is the simple arithmetic. The numbers just don’t come out otherwise, we cannot increase salaries (face it, that is what this is about, and no matter how many students we add, UW will never match salaries at Harvard or Stanford), without massive instate student tuition increases or dramatically increasing out of state students numbers.  If we go the route of the public authority there is just no other way.  This is what the public authority looks like and it isn’t pretty.

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4 Responses to This is what the public authority looks like and it isn’t pretty.

  1. Noel Radomski says:

    Excellent analysis and interesting policy questions. Thank you!

    Noel Radomski

  2. AC says:

    Yes, excellent analysis and sadly a likely scenario.

    The U-Washington situation as described in the linked Seattle Times article gives plenty of food for thought. Danny Westneat states “We’re headed, rapidly, toward the total privatization of the UW[ashington]. The good news is there won’t be this in-state, out-of-state controversy anymore. It will be pure meritocracy, equally expensive to all (unless you qualify for financial aid).” I disagree. No good news here. Not pure meritocracy, but pure means will determine who from the now large, national pool of qualified potential students will be able to afford an education at a top university. And with this being a national movement, every state will eventually compete for the same pool of students.

    But, hey, there must be a whole big world of rich international students out there. Why not create a really expensive tuition class for them, and let them pay for the American education system? Anything! As long as we don’t have to pay (taxes) for something that doesn’t strictly benefit us personally and at this very moment.

    Another Seattle Times article hints at the dilemma from the applicants point of view: I am sure those A-students that were rejected by the UW, would have been accepted at some other state’s flagship university – and vice versa. I have personally seen quite a few similar scenarios in recent years.

    So what is a high school graduate supposed to do even now? S/he will just have to move and pay the price. S/he will NOT get financial aid, since s/he was accepted by the out-of-state university precisely because s/he was deemed to be able to pay. If s/he doesn’t have the family savings, doesn’t want to take on massive (private) loans, or can’t work enough because work interferes with the very education s/he is trying to pay for, s/he can’t attend an out-of-state university. Already, individual Americans are deprived of a college education they are qualified for, but American “top” universities also lose some of their potentially most valuable students. Under a public authority status without enrollment controls this will only get worse. More students. Less qualified students. Severe limitations on resources and the ability to retain highly qualified personnel. So much for maintaining global competitiveness!

  3. Barb Lewis says:

    Why does it have to be a zero-sum game? Something mostly ignored in this fiscal discussion is the enormous amount of revenue UW- Madison gets from outside grants. Federal grants come with an extra “overhead” payment of more than 50%. Right now a lot of that disappears into the state’s budget and UW doesn’t get most of it back. If the state is not allowed to siphon that off, the funds could be used for their intended purpose here at UW.

    Also – right now faculty and staff salaries are limited by state rules, even in cases where the salaries could be partially charged to grants. So tuition revenue wouldn’t even be needed in many cases to retain star faculty.

    A billion dollars a year in research funding is what sets UW-Madison apart, and that is what will contribute to its continued growth if ridiculous and irrelevant state rules can be eliminated.

  4. Bill says:

    Barb – the reason this is mostly ignored is that very little of the revenue from outside grants can be used for undergraduate teaching. It must be used for the specific research proposed. To use it elsewhere is illegal. The extra overhead is not extra at all. It is charged to granting agencies by campus to pay for the research infrastructure on campus. It can only be used for legitimate research expenses, such as laboratories, libraries, RSP, etc. It cannot be used for teaching purposes and very little goes to the state. It would be illegal for the state to siphon most off. Most is spent by Bascom Hall to cover the research enterprise.

    The business about not being able to raise salaries even if money is available is a red herring. Even under current constraints, there are all sorts of mechanisms to increase faculty and staff salaries. It happens all the time.

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