Office of the Chancellor

 

E-mail message to the Campus
November 6, 2002

REMARKS AND ESSAYS:
Post-election budget update


Dear Colleagues:
With the election behind us, we can all hope that focus, innovation, and courage will be brought to bear upon the budget challenges faced by Wisconsin. Campaigns are times for sloganeering. Now it is time for governing.
   Holding public office requires great dedication at any time, and we must now encourage those who are serving us to take on pressing issues with the long-term best interests of our special State fully in mind. And, we have to make clear our willingness to support those with the courage to step forward in a leadership role to protect our shared futures.
   How will UWGB be affected? I am regularly asked about the “budget situation” and, while my commitment to you is to share all we know, right now we know very little. I cannot resist quipping, though, that having proudly been a faculty member for so many years, I guess I have never flinched from sharing what little I know, usually in 50 minute segments. :-) So, here goes.
   I will share my current thinking on how we should proceed. These are only preliminary thoughts, and your deliberative critiques would be most welcome.
   We will not really know what our budget is for the next biennium until, likely, next June. Some say the budget process may drag beyond that time, on into the biennium for which the budget is being prepared. Yet, we will have personnel contracts signed and students admitted well before our budget is known. How do we handle that situation?
   First, we maintain our commitment to protect quality. You have heard me, in earlier messages, refer to the “hydraulics” of high quality, low cost, and wide access: we can have any two of those three, but not all three. High quality is a given. That means, if UWGB’s budget is reduced, the consequences will be felt in higher cost (increased tuition) or lower access (smaller enrollments). Either approach is very painful.
   Higher tuition is painful for our students and their families. It diminishes the important role we play as a public institution: our dedication to opening as widely as possible the door to brighter futures. Limiting access similarly diminishes that core value. And there is the added pain that, since most of our costs are in personnel, reducing size means reducing not just students but positions that would be filled by people who have dedicated their careers to enabling the success of students. Nevertheless, I sometimes hear people say that, by focusing on either tuition or access, we are “taking the easy way out.” Just the opposite. The easy way out is to simply let quality slide. We will not let that happen.
   (Parenthetically, in addition to quality, access, and cost, there is a fourth variable: “efficiency.” We all hear from those who indulge in the fantasy that the problem can be solved by eliminating “waste and inefficiency.” While we are always looking for efficiencies, do know that, for the record and by accepted national measures, the UW System is, already, the most efficient system in the nation. Efficiencies may help a little, but when it comes to addressing real budget issues, we must turn back to quality/access/cost.)
   With the commitment to quality in mind, how do we proceed? I draw a lesson from last year. Last year, amidst similar uncertainty as to what actual budget would emerge for the year we are currently in, we ran through the full budget process using the Governor’s budget numbers as our best guess as to where UWGB would come out. Many, many months passed before we had an actual budget. The final budget was very close to what we had assumed, and so we were able to proceed with no significant “last minute” adjustments being necessary.
   I would suggest that we proceed similarly this time. The Governor’s budget will be known sometime in earlier February. We should take that budget proposal, apply our best information on the politics that are likely to unfold, agree on a target number for our budget, and then build the budget using the full budget process and knowing that, dependent upon what actually happens, we will need to come back and do some fine tuning (if we guess right) or major overhauls (if we guess wrong).
   (We continue, of course, our concerted efforts to shape what emerges in the Governor's budget. And early this spring we will likely seek to engage the campus and our surrounding community in efforts directed to the educational benefit of the legislature.)
 7nbsp; This addresses the matter of timing but not the actual process to be used. We are meeting with a variety of groups, including frequent meetings with Senate Budget and Planning Committee, to develop a process suited to our campus and to our commitment to shared governance. Stay tuned for details on that topic.
   Also unaddressed are questions of enrollment management. Last time around, we protected instructional capacity 100%. And so access was maintained for this year. Having gone through those deliberations, I am certain that, if there are significant cuts to come, we cannot again hold instructional capacity harmless. To be blunt about it, that is, in the end, where most of the dollars are. And, on both logical and political grounds, it is important that the connection be made between funding support and service provided.
   The enrollment management problem we face is that most everybody we would end up admitting has already applied. We will need to make decisions on enrollment targets prior to decisions on budget. There is some talk at the System level about “wait listing” some segment of students who normally would have been admitted, making their ultimate admission dependent upon legislative action. That might be a common-sense fiscal solution but it's much more complicated politically, and would no doubt cause hardship for Wisconsin citizens left guessing as to their college plans.
   We have also to consider, though, that if the “cost” solution (raise tuition) is taken to protect access, then we will not want to reduce our enrollment targets. We will have the capacity to serve our normal number of students, and we will lose funding if we do not do so. Indeed, to hit a specific final figure we likely would want to “aim higher” because tuition increases can have short term reductions in the number of admitted applicants who end up attending and in the number of continuing students electing to come back.
   As with the budget deliberations, we will need to make our best guesses, trusting in our capacity to later adjust to what actually eventuates. We are helped somewhat, on the enrollment management side, by the fact that we will be graduating an unusually large senior class. This means that if we admit the same number of students as for this fall (remembering that that was a reduction from historical levels), our overall enrollments will drop a bit, something we wanted to do anyway because we are above our current enrollment target by 200 students. We would use admissions for the 2003 Spring semester and for the following year to “fine tune” overall enrollments to match the actual budget.
   There are only a couple of other bits of information to share. First, we all need to be keeping our eye on the longer-term. Even as we face short-term problems, it is ever more important to be agreed on where we want to end up. Otherwise, we simply bounce from one crisis to another, letting external events alone dictate our future. With that view in mind, we have had excellent conversations with System leadership on the general direction for a 10-year plan for UWGB and, having received their encouragement, we will now start talking together on campus and with the broader community about just how we would like to proceed.
   Second, we have taken a lead roll in engaging the other chancellors and the System in thinking through principles upon which to base any budget and student FTE reductions that might become necessary. We believe there are approaches that more fairly adapt to UWGB's circumstances and that better serve the System, and we are not being shy about getting the requisite System-level discussions going.
   May be more than you wanted to know about something we have almost no firm information on. But, those are current thoughts as they are emerging from discussions I have been involved in. Please include yourself in those discussions. Let me know what you think.

Thanks,
Bruce

 

 

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