Frozen Tuition in Year One, Tuition Cut in Year Two
Gov. Scott Walker revealed his hope to cut resident undergraduate tuition at the UW System early this year during his State of the State Address to immediate outcry. Legislators on the left and the right immediately leapt at this provision, saying it would either drain the system's resources or be far too expensive for the state.
Under the governor's proposal, resident undergraduates would enjoy a fifth year of the tuition freeze, setting the cost of a year of tuition at UW-Madison at $9,273. In the 2018-19 school year, tuition would be lowered by 5 percent, down to $8,809. The governor's budget specifically allocates $35 million to the System to offset the lower amount of tuition dollars flowing in - just as System officials asked.
As a free marketer, I don't believe that a freeze is a sustainable long-term solution, but given the student debt crisis we're in now, it's the best option out there. Ever since the government began offering guaranteed loans for prospective students, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. Rather than growing government at the latter end by creating new loan and grant programs, it's best to control costs to begin with and keep the cost of tuition from growing.
From the second Gov. Walker uttered the words "cut tuition" in his State of the State address, it was clear that some legislators wouldn't bite. It's a bit ironic that many legislators - who I will bet have boasted about the tuition freeze and how much money they've saved young Wisconsinites on the many pieces of lit that they've produced in the last four years - are balking at the cost.
Under the proposed reforms, students who began as freshmen at UW-Madison in 2015 would save $12,105 for a degree compared to the pre-freeze trend. How do you go after a growing student debt crisis? Cut the cost of a four-year degree by a full fourth.
Pathways to Three-Year Degrees**
Under another proposal, the UW System would be charged with creating pathways to three-year degrees for 10 percent of programs by 2018, and 60 percent of programs by 2020. The System will also have to report on the number of three-year graduates and the percentage of programs for which a three-year pathway exists in an annual accountability report.
This proposal doesn't add additional burdens on students or ask the System or universities to create completely new programs. Rather, universities will have an opportunity to examine bloated degree requirements while shedding light on meaningful options for students. If passed, this proposal would save students valuable dollars - the benefits of which need not be explained here.
For purposes of transparency, the additional reporting requirement is a nice touch. Now let's work on that full audit.
One new requirement would have the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System Board (WTCSB) ensure that for each course of study, no fewer than 60 core general education credits are transferable within and between each system institution. The System will also be required to submit a report to the Legislature describing any barriers to credit transferability by 2018. Under current law, only 30 credits are fully transferable within and between institutions.
Perhaps more than any other provision on higher education in this budget, this one is a no-brainer. Wisconsin's set of universities and tech colleges exist to serve our residents and get them prepared for the future, and any provision that helps them get there and streamlines the bureaucracy between institutions should be a welcome one.
Wisconsin's state institutions should be as flexible as possible for our residents and students while maintaining the high quality of education that the public expects. In this vein, the institutions should strive to complement one another and to maximize the ways in which students can benefit from them and complete their degrees. It's tough to tell how many students, exactly, will benefit from this provision, but the number is undoubtedly not zero. Besides, this should have been the rule from the beginning.
By requiring that a substantial number of credits transfer between each institution, each school's bureaucracy steps out of the way - just the slightest bit - in the favor of students.
Increased Flexible Options
The budget proposal requires the Board of Regents to expand the number of degrees offered through the UW Flexible Option program by at least 50 percent by December of 2019. At least one of the new programs created must be geared towards helping certified nursing assistants in becoming registered nurses, and another must help prepare nonteacher school district employees to successfully complete standardized exams as a condition of becoming certified teachers. The proposal also offers $700,000 in financial aid for students who are enrolled in programs through the UW Flexible Option platform.
Currently, the Flex Option offers five degree programs and three certificates. The program is "made for busy adults" and catered towards individuals who want to get their degrees but who may already be working full time, supporting a family, or otherwise unable to attend traditional college courses.
Only UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and UW Colleges offer the Flex Option.
Wisconsin Tech College System
It's not just the UW System - WTCS is also affected by the governor's budget. The biggest provision is one which would freeze tech college tuition for two years, providing $5 million to offset lost program revenues. According to the governor's office, revenue per full-time enrollee at tech colleges has risen more than 20 percent over the last five years and is at its highest level ever. Clearly, the System won't be bled dry by letting students save more of their hard-earned dollars.
Local tech college districts will be allowed the flexibility to drop tuition lower than the statewide frozen amount.** I won't hold my breath and wait for any districts to jump at the opportunity to make less tuition money, but it's nice that they'll be allowed the option.
WTCS will also be required to submit an annual accountability report** to the governor and Legislature, just as the UW System already does. Such transparency is necessary and welcome.
Required Work Experience**
I've written on this issue here, leaning heavily on my experience as a young graduate who has never had to be told that getting a job is important. Maybe that's just me, though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Other Odds and Ends
I could wax poetic on all the provisions in this budget for thousands of words, but in the interest of keeping my readers awake, I'll go through the last of the provisions here:
- $11.6 million for a general wage adjustment for UW employees. This will fund both the expected inflation increases in fringe benefit costs as well as two 2 percent bumps in general wages, slated for September 2018 and again in May 2019.
- $168 million in additional program revenue and 159.22 additional positions to reflect increases in tuition revenues and positions funded by that revenue.
- $200,000 for the System's rural physician residency assistance program, spread evenly across the biennium.
- Tuition fee remission for the children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans: this provision expands tuition fee remission to the children and spouses of veterans who lived in the state prior to serving, rather than just those individuals who lived in the state after service.
- **Student Housing Leases: the Board of Regents would be responsible for all student housing leases, rather than exempting the Board's lease authority for leases of real property as student housing, as is current law.
Focus on Milwaukee
Schools in Milwaukee receive extra attention in this budget, with $5.65 million provided for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), district charter schools, independent charter schools, and private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).
About 35 percent of that funding is earmarked for distribution among eligible schools that received scores of "significantly exceeds expectations" or "exceeds expectations" on the most recent school report cards. Each school would receive a payment directly proportional to the number of pupils in that school.
The remaining 65 percent of performance-based funding would be allocated to schools that show performance increases of three points or more over two years prior on their report cards. This funding would also be split directly proportional to the number of pupils in each school.
MPS also receives an additional $2.8 million for summer school grants, split evenly across the biennium. The MPS Board is charged with creating a program to annually award grants for summer school programs to increase pupil attendance, improve academic achievement, and expose pupils to innovative learning. This pot of money is specifically allocated for public schools in the city of Milwaukee, except for independent charter schools.
Mental Health and Bullying
With an increased focus on mental health care throughout the governor's budget proposal, DPI sees extra funding in this issue area as well. A new $3 million categorical aid program is created to reimburse school districts and independent charter schools for social workers. Another $2.5 million is provided in 2018-19 for community and mental health collaboration grants. DPI is charged with creating a new grant program for the purpose of collaborating with mental health professionals to provide mental health services to pupils.
Another new program is funded to the tune of $300,000 across the biennium to provide and create an online training curriculum for bullying prevention. Students in grades kindergarten through eight are expected to benefit from this program.
One full time position and $1 million is provided across the biennium to fund training for school districts and independent charter schools to provide mental health screening and intervention services for students.
School Choice Programs
As I wrote here, there are no substantial changes to any of Wisconsin's school choice programs, which are known formally in law as the Parental Choice Programs. Plenty of new regulations, however, are proposed:
- **Requirements for annual hours of instruction for public schools and private schools that participate in a choice program are deleted. However, current law requiring that private schools offer at least 875 hours of instruction would be maintained.
- **Private choice schools would be required to conduct a background check for all potential teachers and administrators prior to extending an offer of employment. Private choice schools would also be required to conduct background checks on all individuals already employed by the school, and would have to regularly conduct such checks at least once every five years after the initial background investigation.
- Students would be able to participate in the statewide choice program if they attended a school in another state in the previous school year. Such students are not currently eligible for participation in the statewide program.
- **Pupil parents or guardians, as well as private schools, would be allowed to submit financial information to DPI for the purpose of verifying student eligibility. Under current law, only private schools are able to submit parental income information.
- **A school would be able to be barred from participating in a private school choice program for two years if it is found to misrepresent any information to DPI. Schools may also be barred from participating in the special needs scholarship program if the school is found to misrepresent any required information.
- **Change private school reporting requirements so that schools may submit information prior to the first year of participation in any of the choice programs rather than annually. Schools would still be required to provide copies of any policy - such as the school's policy for awarding a high school diploma - upon request of DPI.
- **Certain members of school governing bodies will be required to submit signed statements to DPI verifying that the individual is a member of the governing body.
- **DPI will be explicitly prohibited from requiring any private choice school that is not a new school and that is in good standing with DPI to submit an annual operating budget as evidence of financial viability.
- **Pupils attending a private school in a nonresident district will be able to be reevaluated by an IEP team appointed by the nonresident district if the parent or guardian provides written consent. Under current law, pupils who participate in the special needs scholarship program may only be reevaluated by an IEP team appointed by the pupil's resident school district.
- The part-time open enrollment program, which the 2013-15 biennial budget transformed into the course options program, would be gradually restored as the open enrollment program once more.
- The youth options program would be modified into the early college credit program, allowing public high school pupils to enroll in higher education institutions to take extra classes.