As the new year approaches, I have our future students on my mind.
Today one of our core values is at stake—something that should concern all of us who are committed to the future of our college, UW–Madison and Wisconsin. I am talking about declining state support for postsecondary education and its devastating effect on our young people and their opportunities.
Undergraduate education at UW–Madison is paid for by a combination of general program revenue (GPR)—derived from state taxes—and tuition, paid by students and families. In 2001, GPR funding for UW-Madison was $370 million and tuition revenue was $277 million. Ten years later, GPR has fallen to just $279 million, while tuition revenue increased to $400 million (all figures adjusted to 2010 dollars). As a result, tuition increased from $5044 per year in 2001 (2010 dollars) to $8987 in 2010. (These numbers do not include the $47.5 million cut imposed in the 2011 budget.) The state also gives UW money for special purposes, but these funds cannot be used directly in providing undergraduate education.
When the state fails to support the university, the university gets the needed revenue by charging students and their families more. This is a pretty straightforward relationship, but I am not sure that the implications are always clear. When the state cuts the budget and tuition increases, fewer students from middle-class and financially pressed families can afford to attend UW–Madison.
Here at CALS, we are especially aware of the effects on Wisconsin’s rural families. Rural per capita income is 20 percent less than in metropolitan areas, and 40 percent of CALS students demonstrate significant financial need. What is the future for CALS if a greater proportion of kids interested in careers in agriculture and natural resources cannot afford to come to Madison? Indeed, what is the future of Wisconsin’s rural communities?
We also can’t pretend that the quality of undergraduate education won’t suffer. Less revenue means fewer degree programs, especially in production agriculture, and fewer courses dedicated to agriculture. The time it takes to finish a degree will lengthen. And it will be harder for people with moderate incomes to afford to come here.
Supporting our agricultural communities means supporting public higher education in Wisconsin. The UW System is the provider of affordable, accessible opportunities to earn bachelor’s degrees, and we at CALS are the provider of the specialized knowledge needed to excel in careers in agriculture, natural resources and the life sciences. When state cuts make it harder for rural kids to attend CALS, the economic vitality of our rural communities is diminished.
How we fund a college education at UW is up to the people of Wisconsin—and in any policy debate it’s important to have all facts on the table. My hope is that, as we move forward, undergraduate education gets the attention and resources that our young people and our state deserve.
Thanks to all of you for your support of our college.
William F. Tracy
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Reprinted with permission from WALSAA Express December 2011