THE CAPITOL REPORT: System schools are stressed

Posted 8/31/23

Wisconsin's sprawling university system is under a lot of stress. A few years ago we saw the merging of two-year campuses into regional schools. And now we're seeing the shrinking of some of those …

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THE CAPITOL REPORT: System schools are stressed


Wisconsin's sprawling university system is under a lot of stress.
A few years ago we saw the merging of two-year campuses into regional schools.
And now we're seeing the shrinking of some of those regional institutions due to enrollment declines, a drop in state aid and other financial challenges.
At least four schools have recently announced moves to address structural deficits, including consideration of layoffs and furloughs:
-- UW-Platteville, which has a projected $9.7 million deficit.
-- UW-Parkside, which has a deficit expected to reach at least $4 million by the end of the fiscal year.
-- UW-Oshkosh, which announced it will lay off more than 200 of about 1,460 employees to address an $18 million deficit.
-- And of course, the former two-year campus at Richland Center that was folded into UW-Platteville, has ceased in-person instruction to cut costs.
Some policymakers think the System is too big. Formed in the 1970s, it lists 13 universities across 26 campuses and a statewide extension network with offices in every county. That's in addition to all the
tech colleges around the state. Some of those are right next door to the System schools.
UW System President Jay Rothman in a statement said the announcements from UW-Platteville and UW-Parkside are “disappointing and unfortunate – yet not unexpected.”
“Our universities are facing demographic, political and economic realities that require hard, though necessary decisions. These actions we are forced to take represent missed opportunities for our students and families but are necessary given our circumstances,” Rothman said.
Democrat Gov. Tony Evers had proposed a $305 million increase in state funding to the UW System in his 2023-25 budget, but the GOP-controlled state Legislature rejected that move. Instead, it cut state funding by $32 million as Republicans, most notably Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, criticized its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as wasteful, leftist indoctrination. The System could earn that money back if it comes up with a plan to use it for workforce development purposes.
Democrats focused on the funding cut in their response to the campus moves.
Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer urged Republicans to use a special session called by Evers next month to address the budget shortfalls, as well as child care costs and paid family leave.
Republicans have quickly gaveled in and out of previous special sessions.
“Our community members are face-to-face with furloughs and spending cuts. There are livelihoods on the line across the UW System,” the Racine Democrat said. “Inaction on Sept. 20 is unacceptable, and I hope my Republican colleagues see the gravity of this situation.”
UW-Parkside Interim Chancellor Scott Menke told employees the administration needs to consider all options to conserve resources.
“While our preliminary estimate for freshman and transfer enrollment looks promising for the new school year, it will likely take more than a year to recover from our current shortfall,” Menke said.
Last fall, 3,966 students enrolled at UW-Parkside compared to 6,485 at UW-Platteville. Overall, 160,782 students enrolled in UW System schools. UW-Parkside had 525 total employees in fall 2022, according
to UW System data, while UW-Platteville had 915 employees.
Menke cited challenges such as declining enrollment, reduced state support, the former tuition freeze and inflation. He said the school is considering using up to $1 million of its unused balances to cover
a portion of the deficit and reducing department budgets and spending across the campus by 10 percent.
Other changes include only filling positions identified as “critical need” areas, pausing all new initiatives, and campuswide furloughs. Menke said Parkside may make other changes as well if needed, including layoffs, consolidating and restructuring departments and creating incentives for early retirement.
Meanwhile, UW-Platteville Chancellor Tammy Evetovich said the university is weighing implementing one-time budget retractions, along with furloughs and staff reductions.
“While implementing the strategies before us will not be easy, we need to position ourselves for long-term financial stability and prosperity,” Evetovich said.
Professor Terry Warfield, a member of UW-Madison PROFS’s Steering Committee, told WisPolitics the situation is “predictable” after the Legislature decided to cut the UW System budget.
“It’s hard to fathom why we wouldn’t invest more to help these campuses respond to these challenges and to continue to provide higher education and more skilled and well-educated people that join the
workforce,” Warfield said.
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The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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