“We are left with a house we can ill afford.”

A full house streamed into Erlenbach Auditorium on Tuesday for the Open Budget Forum, Chancellor Wachter’s update on the budget “lapse,” and current and future funding of the University of Wisconsin – Superior. The crowd, mainly comprised of faculty and staff, with very few students in attendance, was very quiet throughout the presentation.

Wachter began with a review of the facts. The university system was asked to “return” 38% of the state’s budget shortfall, even though the system only accounts for 78% of the state budget. UW-Superior’s share was $700,290 last budget year and $298,176 for this year’s budget. The Chancellor told us that according to the Governor’s office, the lapse is expected to be an abberation, not a normal part of the fiscal picture.

Chancellor Wachter said “We are left with a house we can ill afford,” with new moneys from the state being directed towards new programs while established ones are losing funding. For example, the Governor’s office is promoting a flexible degree program directed at working people, allowing them to earn college credit for knowledge gained in the workplace.

Jan Hanson, Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance, explained some of the cuts that were made to meet this year’s lapse, including shifting some salaries to segregated fees or to grants and leaving some positions unfilled, including chief information officer and director of institutional research.

Hanson continued with a list of underfunded categories, including promotions, library acquisitions, and athletic travel (underfunded by $100,000 due to increased cost of fuel). The lack of a pay plan was cited, along with increases in the cost of benefits being passed on to employees. Chancellor Wachter stated that UW Superior pays its employees an average of 18% below national averages.

“The campus faces tough choices to maintain its mission,” said Wachter.

Recruitment and retention are essential to funding the university. This year saw a dip in enrollment, exacerbating problems. An increase of one hundred students is an increase in revenue of $2, 614,000 over four years. That same one hundred students would account for $130,000 per year in segregated fees collected. Analysis has shown that the Twin Cities is a good potential source of new students, and a recruitment office will be established there.

Another course that is being investigated is researching classes with low enrollment. The university is also looking at major and minor degrees along with the general education practices, to see if any adjustments or consolidations could be made there.

Provost Faith Hensrud spoke about the importance of utilizing and reviewing the university’s high-impact practices, including Academic Service Learning, Writing Across the Curriculum, and Senior-Year and First- Year Experience programs.

The chancellor ended the program with a call for ideas from anyone on campus, and reiterating the goal of continuing the campus’s goals of accessibility for all and the culture of inclusiveness.

In the comments and Questions period at the end of the program, Dr. Khalil Dokhanchi reminded the audience that the “root of the problem is the lack of public funding,” calling for a renewed effort to petition the government to place an emphasis on higher education. Graham Garfield, President of the Student Government Association suggested putting an emphasis on recruitment at high schools throughout northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. He couldn’t recall any sort of effort in his high school in Ashland, WI.

Kirsten Scheid -- The Stinger
A full crowd attending the Open Budget Forum.
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