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At last week’s University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting, President Cross supported the proposed State biennial budget, and I would like to echo that support.

The Governor’s budget proposes the first new investment for UW System in more than a decade. I firmly believe this is a signal that Wisconsin recognizes the impact we have on the success of our state. I hear and see this confidence in reinvestment first-hand as the budget process moves forward and I work with community partners, local legislators and the UW System leadership. I am encouraged daily as I hear our partners across all industries boasting the success of our graduates and highlighting the impact of our collaborations. This state is stronger because of UW Oshkosh and each UW campus – a reinvestment only makes us stronger.

Over the next several months, the details of the budget will be publicly debated as the Joint Finance Committee hosts listening sessions throughout the state. There are many proposed details that we as a UW System support, and there are several elements we hope to help refine as the final budget takes form. I pledge to remain actively engaged in the process and advocate for the needs of our campus community.

Here are the highlights from the Board of Regents meeting, including an outline of UW System priorities at a Federal level:

Also, below you will find the full transcript of the remarks provided by President Cross regarding the biennial budget.


President Cross Remarks
Board of Regents Meeting – March 9, 2017

The Governor announced his biennial budget in February, and we are pleased that it provides the first investment the UW System has received in more than a decade. We provide one of the best returns on investment for the State, and we appreciate this recognition of our critical role we play in strengthening Wisconsin’s economy and workforce.

The Joint Finance Committee will begin its budget listening sessions around the state in coming weeks. We are already having many very productive conversations with the Governor’s Office, the Joint Finance Committee, legislative leadership and new legislators about our budget needs. We look forward to these continued discussions in the months ahead.

Probably most noteworthy is that the Governor’s proposed budget reflects the priorities and direction expressed in our 2020FWD strategic framework. We unveiled our 2020FWD plan in August 2016, and it served as the basis of our biennial budget request. We presented this plan – which aligns UW System resources with Wisconsin’s greatest needs – to the Governor last November.

It is clear he listened. I will share five key focus areas where the Governor’s budget emulates our 2020FWD strategic plan.

First, affordability. We know there are multiple factors that affect college affordability. Time to degree has the largest impact on college affordability. That is why we recommended robust initiatives to help students graduate on time, such as expanding college credit options in high school and making it easier to transfer college credits.  The Governor included proposals similar to these initiatives, making it clear that we both recognize that when students graduate on time, they save money and get into the workforce more quickly.

We also want to keep higher education accessible to all students, and the Regents requested more than $19 million in financial aid for students. We hope financial aid is a factor the legislature will continue to focus on when developing the budget to support our students with the greatest need.

Accountability is the second area where the Governor’s budget echoes our strategic plan. The UW System was the first higher education system in the nation to implement an accountability report, and we posted this data online in a graphical format. Our graphical report includes a broad spectrum of higher education performance metrics related to access, affordability, educational performance and much more.

The Governor’s biennial budget calls for a report card – a dashboard that reveals our progress toward established goals. That, too, was in our 2020FWD plan. As we work to refine the metrics associated with performance-based funding or outcomes-based funding, we will work to make sure the role of the Board of Regents is maintained, that the uniqueness of the UW System and each institution is recognized, that any funding metrics are measurable, and that established goals are of value to the state, while also reflecting the core values of a comprehensive and quality higher education experience.

Third, we have a focus on employee compensation. As I have said before and will continue to say, our faculty and staff work incredibly hard. UW System employees make up more than half of all Wisconsin State Employees and we compete at an international level. Our faculty and staff are the reason the institutions within the UW System are some of the best in the world.

So, we sincerely appreciate the Governor’s recognition that our employees are key to the success of our students – and that they deserve general wage adjustments. The Governor’s budget proposal would be the largest increase seen by state employees in at least a decade. We will continue to advocate that UW System employees continue to receive every benefit and salary adjustment possible.

The UW System’s infrastructure accounts for about 60% of state-owned facilities in Wisconsin. This is why our fourth key focus area is capital infrastructure. We carefully developed a reasonable capital budget plan to perform a limited amount of work each year at a steady pace.

The capital infrastructure plan we submitted impacts about 3% of our existing inventory – and it proposes to renovate only 1.6% of our gross square feet. The Governor’s capital budget proposal will allow us to make general repairs across the UW System, as well as update the technology our students are using in the classroom.

We will work with the Governor and legislature in the months ahead to strongly advocate to fund our capital budget proposal. It ultimately costs students and taxpayers more when critical repair projects are delayed unnecessarily.

Last, but not least, flexibilities. The Governor’s budget provided some significant new procurement, purchasing and leasing flexibilities. We applaud these new tools, and we will continue to make the case for the ability to manage our own program revenue-funded projects. This ability would decrease state bonding obligations, while also reducing student costs by decreasing the time it takes to develop and complete critical projects.

At a time when leaders in Washington and Madison are working to reduce regulatory burdens on all levels of public education, we are encouraging legislators and the Governor to empower the Board of Regents. It is important that the UW System maintain flexibility to develop and manage curriculum, to manage employees, and to allocate our resources. This allows us to more nimbly and efficiently respond to the challenges facing our state.

We really appreciate the support we have received from the Governor and legislators on both sides of the aisle. This has been the best budget proposal we have had in a decade. We look forward to working with our partners in state government over the next few months to ensure this budget continues to reflect our common goals.

In closing, our 2020FWD framework includes proposals to reinvigorate our economy and enhance the quality of life of our citizens.  Regents, chancellors, faculty, staff, community and business leaders, and the citizens of Wisconsin helped build this plan. The Governor clearly supports the ideas and vision in our 2020FWD plan, and we appreciate greatly the Governor’s proposed investment in the UW System.