The state’s biennial budget might seem complicated, but it has very real effects for the students, faculty, administration and staff that make up the UW System. In the last round, they were forced to absorb a $250 million cut that changed the experiences of students across the state. As the next budget looms, follow The Daily Cardinal’s series on what it could hold for key UW players.
Follow the series for our next installment for a look at how the budget affects building projects on campus.
On each door of UW-Madison’s Office of Student Financial Aid, a sign hangs depicting three concentric circles.
One represents recruitment, retention and on-time graduation for students, the other symbolizes a seamless enrollment process and the third represents engagement in the university’s academic and research enterprises.
But as Derek Kindle, the office’s director, pointed out, at the center of the three circles is students.
“We are really trying to focus ourselves to students and meeting their needs in every and any way possible,” Kindle said.
About 63 percent of undergraduate students at the university will receive some form of financial aid through his office each year, Kindle explained, though the source of that aid varies.
Nearly 50 percent of UW-Madison’s aid comes from the federal government, 32 percent stems from the school itself and just 6 percent is provided by the state, according to the 2016-’17 Budget in Brief.
Students like Yasmeena Ougayour, a junior from Marshfield, Wis., said that some students aren’t eligible for programs, such as PEOPLE or POSSE, which target students of certain income levels or hometowns and have to rely on other forms of financial aid.
“For students like myself, I’m in a sort of weird bracket of not being from a background that is typically offered the grants and the big academic scholarships.” Ougayour said. “And I want to be very humble about this, but I think some people, even worse off than me, don’t make that income bracket and are still struggling to pay for their school.”
The university also divides its gift aid into two categories, need-based and merit-based, which accounted for 24 percent and 28 percent of the aid dispersed within the academic year, respectively.
While Kindle said those amounts have remained relatively stable, that’s a small shift from the last two school years, when the percentage of need-based aid was slightly higher than that of merit-based aid.
UW-Madison associate professor Nicholas Hillman said the type of aid schools prioritize depends on policy goals—whether they seek to retain smart, in-state students or increase access and opportunity for students with lower income, for example.
In Wisconsin, where legislators feel pressure from their college-educated constituents to protect the university system and to welcome students from all backgrounds, the push for lower-income students to attend UW schools is an increasingly popular one.
One conceivable solution is to increase the amount of need-based aid provided by the state. The Higher Educational Aids Board gives out roughly $140 million to students enrolled in the UW System, as well as the state’s technical colleges, tribal colleges and private universities.
Almost three quarters of that money is given to students via a program called the Wisconsin Grant. HEAB Secretary John Reinemann said that money is designed to help those who need the most help paying for college.
“You have to be awfully needy to be needy enough to get a Wisconsin Grant from our agency,” Reinemann said.
The HEAB doles out money based on when students fill out the FAFSA, with those filing the application earlier getting the best chance of receiving some money. Each of the sectors receiving Wisconsin Grant funds, including the UW System, crafts a formula to determine how many students will get aid and what portion of their tuition those grants will cover.
Each year, Reinemann says, there is unmet need. The UW System has historically tried to design a formula which helps most needy applicants get some measure of aid, with roughly one in four undergrads system-wide receiving an average of $1,773 in 2014.
In an effort to help reduce that unmet need, the Board of Regents approved a resolution in June to petition the HEAB to request more funding for the Wisconsin Grant in that agency’s 2017-’19 biennial budget request.
“This is an overdue and prudent enhancement of state support for our students,” Regent Gerald Whitburn said at the time. “I think it should be a priority in the upcoming budget process.”
The resolution requests an additional $19 million to beef up the program over the course of the next two years. Reinemann acknowledges, however, that the grant is unlikely to see a major increase given the number of state agencies competing for funding in the next budget cycle.
“I don’t believe the governor can be expected to meet the entire request. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation,” he said. “I’m sorry to have to say that but … the increases the program have been given have been very small and are nothing like the amounts requested by the sectors.”
Despite the state’s small contribution to aid at UW-Madison and the cuts it has distributed to the university as a whole in past years, Kindle said the financial aid office has remained largely unaffected because of efforts to shield it from those cuts.
“We try in all ways possible to protect student aid as much as we can,” Kindle said.
The office also works with politicians to promote clear-cut legislation surrounding financial aid for students—whether that means advising national players, state legislators or other areas of university administration that advocate for the school in Wisconsin’s biennial budget.
Kindle said he is hesitant to criticize legislators for their work on financial aid and college tuition, but added that he hopes to see more transparency concerning aid in the state’s next budget—something he said can get “fuddled” while trying to craft legislation in a restrained timeframe.
“[We want to make] sure that what we say looks exactly how we meant it, and to a student, ends up being exactly what everyone meant it to be,” he explained.