College News

Divided opinion on state capital budget puts into question value of Wisconsin Idea, higher education

PROFS and the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education formed a panel on the 2019-’21 state capital budget implications on higher education after a split opinion from Gov. Tony Evers and Republican-held state legislature.

Image By: Courtesy of PROFS

Diminishing UW System funds paired with a tuition freeze lead to concerns of the quality of higher education throughout Wisconsin. 

When the State Building Commission did not recommend a single project of the 80 outlined in Gov. Tony Evers’ budget, the public asked what the future of education would look like. 

One of the first conversations challenging the budget decision was the “2019-’21: Implications for Higher Education” panel in collaboration with PROFS, a UW-Madison nonprofit faculty organization and the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

Some of the priorities — value of the Wisconsin Idea, System-wide renovations and ongoing urban and rural divides — rely directly on the capital budget. 

Evers, who has been called the “education governor,” experienced intense bouts of backlash as he stepped into the role of governor. With a newly divided state government, Wisconsin citizens have watched legislators struggle to find their footing. 

Thus, concerns about higher education drove Evers’ campaign platform. And with $1.96 million set aside for the UW System, his efforts to support statewide education garnered attention throughout the state. 

And yet, moderator and WISCAPE Director Noel Radomski asked how the UW System will become a priority given all the other state priorities, including tackling opioid addiction and boosting agriculture and farming. 

Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said getting ahead of the concerns, like heroin addiction, can be “very, very difficult.” He also noted that priorities vary in importance, especially higher education. 

However, the value of the UW System goes beyond the classroom and should be considered a high priority in the budget, according to Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. 

“If public support moves upward and we elect people who also recognize the intrinsic and inherent value of the UW System and in higher education, especially in access and affordability to the public,” Shankland said.

The Wisconsin Idea has connected UW-Madison with the state for generations. And, for Shankland, it’s only become more essential to the growth of the state. 

“UW System is just about encouraging people to explore ideas, to challenge their critical thinking and enhance their skills,” Shankland said. “But it’s also about serving the entire public; it’s about serving the whole state. And I do think we need to do a better job talking about every single thing that happens here and at all the other campuses in the state.” 

Nicholas Hillman, UW-Madison associate professor and WISCAPE affiliate, connected the concerns of Murphy and Shankland as the search for immediate and long-term solutions. 

Referencing heroin addiction, Hillman viewed the necessity for having immediate health support accessible to individuals as well as university training for medical professionals to be proactive in developing preventative solutions.

“It’s both immediate and long-term … which is exciting and hopeful, but I think really hard to articulate sometimes,” Hillman said. “That’s one of the biggest value propositions of our university system. These are our neighbors who are going to help us problem-solve and that’s the kind of neighbor I want to have.”  

Shankland mentioned the UW System’s 1:23 ratio, which means every dollar put into the System produces $23 in return. Not only is there a fiscal benefit, but Hillman also found “vast social benefit.”

But these benefits are not seen by all. UW System Senior Director for State Relations Jeff Buhrandt called the public not seeing the value of higher education “daunting.” He also said that is very unpopular among certain unnamed sectors. 

“When you talk about convincing the legislature and the governor to share these priorities, I think you have to go to the public in general,” Buhrandt said. “If you want to reinforce the value of education, you need to go beyond the capital.” 

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