Finding the Truth

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) has released an "executive memo" to the UW System Board of Regents regarding the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU). It was expertly crafted by our director Noel Radomski. I'd like to share some of its highlights with you here.

"I have spent several months reviewing the MIU proposal, which has included meeting with Chancellor Martin and her senior cabinet; reviewing creative innovations at other universities and systems; and comparing the initiative’s components with the research on potential benefits and unintended consequences. Based on my findings, I strongly encourage you to refer the proposal to a future meeting so that stakeholders at UW–Madison and the UW System can invest more time and energy in crafting a proposal that truly maintains and enhances the university’s quality and affordability."

Noel then states some important facts-- among them are the following descriptions of our economic situations:

1. Due to a worsening economy and falling tax collections, the Wisconsin budget deficit could add as much as a $1.2 billion to a projected state budget deficit already estimated at nearly $6 billion earlier this year (Wisconsin State Journal, May 6, 2009).

2. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate hit 9.4% in April 2009, surpassing the national rate for the first time since June 2007. The state lost a total of 8,700 non-farm jobs in March and has shed more than 112,000 jobs since March 2008 (Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development).

3. The Wisconsin Poverty Report, published this month by the UW–Madison Institute for Research on Poverty, painted a dismal picture of increasing poverty rates in our state and participation in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

4. In 2006, 20% of Wisconsin residents had incomes in the lowest income quintile compared to only 8.9% of UW–Madison freshmen (University of Wisconsin–Madison).

5. Earlier this week, the Joint Committee on Finance approved an amendment to Governor Jim Doyle’s proposed state budget that shifted Wisconsin Higher Education Grant (WHEG) revenue from the UW System to the Wisconsin Technical College System; as a result, current estimates predict 7,700 UW System students could see their financial aid packages reduced.

He then goes on to make several suggestions, among them:

1. Require all undergraduates to complete a FAFSA before enrolling at UW–Madison, although an “opt out” option can be added for personal and philosophical reasons.

2. For students from families with incomes of $80,000 or less (or some other number), the proposed tuition surcharge should not be assessed (i.e., a waiver rather than a reimbursement). The reason for this suggested change is to reduce administrative complexities and costs, but more importantly, to send the message to hard-working Wisconsin families that they will not have to pay a tuition surcharge in addition to a tuition increase. The suggestion is aimed at reducing “sticker shock” effects, especially for first generation students.

3. The UW–Madison campus should review other state and campus need-based aid programs (publicly and privately financed efforts) that could serve as a model for the design of a uniquely crafted UW–Madison private-public, need-based aid program. WISCAPE has already completed an environmental scan of innovative and effective public and private need-based programs that could be uniquely designed for Wisconsin.

4. UW–Madison should be asked to design and integrate an accountability system into the MIU proposal, which should include benchmarks and indicators so current and prospective students, parents, grandparents, guardians, campus leaders, the UW System Board of Regents, and elected officials can easily access findings and reports illustrating the efficiency and effectiveness of the proposal.

He closes with the following: "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found" (taken from a report of the Board of Regents in 1894).

Ok-- I think at this point, 'nuff said. It is up to the thoughtful people of the great state of Wisconsin, and their leaders, to bring this one home. Tomorrow (today) I turn my attention to Washington DC and what our national leaders can do to better support our community colleges.