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Today, the Board of Regents approved tuition increases for the 2012 fiscal year averaging 5.5 percent at University of Wisconsin System institutions. At UW Oshkosh, in-state students will pay $315 more per year, with annual tuition rising to $6,090.  

A more complete picture of the price of attending our institution shows a full-time UW Oshkosh student living on campus with a meal plan will actually see a 3.7 percent increase in the total price to attend our institution in fiscal year 2012, the lowest percentage increase in the UW System.

The increases are relatively modest and in line with tuition increases over the last five years. However, it is hard to feel good about price increases of any kind, no matter how contained they may be.

As cuts in state taxpayers’ investment in higher education deepen, the price to access this education continues to rise. This development jeopardizes financial aid for our students and threatens to erode the quality of education in Wisconsin. Like the erosion of a riverbank, the erosion of educational quality can occur in a sudden flash or it can be eaten away over time through neglect and a gradual weakening of support structures. Once eroded, the restoration of a riverbank and the subsequent reestablishment of a smooth-flowing river are neither swift nor easy. And if we allow the quality of education in the state to erode, reestablishing our reputation of excellence and access will, likewise, not be an overnight proposition.

System-wide, tuition increases will generate about $37.5 million in revenue in fiscal 2012. That is less than one-third of the funding necessary to close the UW System $125 million shortfall in that first fiscal year of the new biennial budget. We cannot expect students to close budget shortfalls on their own. Chancellors and governance leaders will need to make additional, difficult budget decisions.

UW Oshkosh’s tuition increases will generate an offset of $1.9 million, leaving $4.2 million of our institution’s share of the System’s 2011-12 budget shortfall. Our administrative and governance leaders have tentative plans in place to close the remaining gap. These plans will be finalized after input from campus governance leaders in the coming weeks. We will send a campus-wide budget update communication in early August. Year two of the biennium requires closure of yet another $125 million for the UW System, with UW Oshkosh addressing another approximately $6 million. By the end of 2013, UW Oshkosh will have closed approximately $12 million of the UW System’s $250 million reduction in state taxpayer funding, or its overall biennial shortfall. 

Our campus community is working hard, making sacrifices, controlling costs and, when necessary, exacting cuts to fill in the budget gaps. We have our work cut out for us on multiple fronts if we are to make progress on our UW System Growth Agenda core strategies and curtail the wearing down of the Wisconsin Idea — the promise that our universities will provide exemplary service and meet the knowledge needs of the state’s people. The three most crucial challenges we must successfully address are:

 

  • Student support: As state revenue dedicated to UW System continues to fall, we are very concerned about jeopardizing federal financial aid programs for students. Sadly, as the economic need for more and better-prepared graduates increases, the funding that is the bedrock of support for these students is in danger of eroding. About 70 percent of our students receive some form of financial aid, most of it in form of need-based funding, such as Pell Grants. We must also renew our commitment to state-based financial aid. System-wide, one in five resident undergraduate students received a Wisconsin Higher Education Grant last year. The average award per student was approximately $2,100. As we aim to protect these sources of support, UW Oshkosh will also look to enhance the $540,000 it dedicated to the innovative and successful Student Titan Employment Program (STEP). It is one of the many campus employment programs providing approximately 1,750 students with $5.3 million in annual wages, or, on average, $3,028 per student a year. That is equivalent to the tuition for one semester at UW Oshkosh. We will pledge, at a minimum, to preserve 2010-11 funding levels for this high-impact student employment program and others in 2011-12.

 

  • Faculty and staff support: We must address the continued erosion in the compensation for our faculty and staff. Increased faculty compensation is an important factor in maintaining academic excellence and enhancing the student learning experience. Four years ago, compensation averages for our faculty and staff already trailed Midwest comprehensive university peer group averages by more than 12 percent. After four years of no raises and compensation declines due to furloughs, faculty and staff may fall even further behind. Now, our 1,700 employees are facing another biennium without raises. In fact, they will see, on average, an 8 percent reduction in take home pay due to mandatory increases in insurance and retirement payments over the next two years. Our institution and all UW System institutions must reestablish competitiveness in the recruitment, support and retention of talented faculty and staff.

In the new budget, UW Oshkosh and other UW System institutions are beneficiaries of long-sought and much-needed leadership and management flexibilities. These new responsibilities and decision-making freedoms will help university administrators and governance leaders find new, inventive, cost-cutting solutions to purchasing, hiring and energy management.

Even more flexibilities are needed and will be pursued, yet we realize no matter how much freedom institutions are given to manage budgets and innovate, new tools alone will not rectify the bigger, long-term threat: The erosion of UW System institutions’ excellence due to dramatic declines in state funding.

It is more important than ever that UW Oshkosh and the UW System be entrepreneurial and efficient. It is equally important that our donors, community and business allies and elected leaders remain deeply committed to collaboration and investment in our institutions’ mission to meet the ever-increasing knowledge needs of the people of Wisconsin. We must avoid reaching the point of no return – the point at which we allow the economic and cultural currents of the day to irrevocably erode Wisconsin’s venerated public, higher education institutions. This is our shared responsibility as stewards of the people’s universities.

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