Funding our Higher Education Institutions
Wisconsin’s institutions of higher education are key drivers of our state’s economy, from the folks they employ in communities big and small to the students they educate and help retain in-state post-graduation.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended the operations of Wisconsin’s institutions of higher education throughout the state. While institutions quickly pivoted, they were forced to deliver education in unique ways and, in many cases, experienced reduced revenues. These institutions will face continuing challenges regarding how to conduct in-person and online learning, as well as increased uncertainty related to future enrollments.
Robust state investment is necessary to maintain the ability of our University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Technical College System institutions to meet and exceed their missions and goals, grow the state’s workforce, and maintain affordability for students.
Governor Evers is also proposing continued investments in our state’s technical colleges so that they are able to continue providing critical services to their over 280,000 students. Building upon the down payment established in the 2019-21 biennial budget, this budget will further increase state general aid for Wisconsin Technical College System institutions by $18 million in each year of the biennium.
The governor’s budget provides numerous streams of fiscal support to the UW System intended to provide maximum flexibility to address operational needs.
- To offset foregone revenue related to the current tuition freeze, the governor recommends providing $16.8 million in the fiscal year 2021-22 and $33.6 million in the fiscal year 2022-23 in unrestricted, flexible dollars.
- The UW system will receive $20 million in each fiscal year in general unrestricted aid to address operational needs and be a part of their base budget for the 2023-25 biennial budget. • The budget will permit the UW System Board of Regents to direct the State of Wisconsin Investment Board to invest certain system program revenues outside of the State Investment Fund, in order to increase investment revenues to the system.
- The budget will also allow the UW System Board of Regents to obtain extensions of credit for short-term funding for expenses associated with athletic and educational programs.
- Additionally, the budget transfers responsibility for the negotiation and execution of the Wisconsin‑Minnesota tuition reciprocity agreement from the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) to the UW System. As part of this transfer, the budget specifies that the UW System is entitled to receive any “excess” payment from Minnesota, which likely will increase program revenues to the system and offset auxiliary revenue losses.
The final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt noted that because 53% of Wisconsinites live paycheck-to-paycheck, outstanding debt places students and families in precarious financial situations. Unfortunately, for many Wisconsinites, this has likely been exacerbated by the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maintaining the affordability of our state public higher education institutions is essential to regaining the vitality of our economy and keeping the best and brightest in Wisconsin. The governor’s budget proposal addresses this in several ways:
- Expanding the “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” program to all UW System campuses. The program provides four years of free tuition to students in a household with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. In 2018, UW-Madison created this program to attract resident low‑income students by offering free tuition.
- Providing UW System non-resident tuition exemptions to:
- Certain members of Native American tribes in Wisconsin and contiguous states;
- Otherwise qualified individuals who are undocumented; and
- Resident active-duty military service members and their families who are relocated to another state by the service agency.
- Providing 10% increases in each year of the biennium in Wisconsin grant appropriations for need-based financial aid for eligible students attending UW System institutions, WTCS, private non-profit, and tribal colleges.
- Doubling funding for the need-based Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant program. This program provides minority students with grants of up to $2,500 per year to offset postsecondary education costs.
- Expanding the rural dental loan repayment program to provide loan repayment assistance to dentists at the same level as physicians practicing in rural areas.
- Dentists will earn be able to earn up to $100,000 in assistance over three years for providing services in rural areas.
- This will help to ensure dental access is widespread across Wisconsin both in urban centers and rural areas.
- Fellowships and loan repayment assistance will be offered to individuals who commit to teaching nursing at a UW System institution for at least three years.
Assisting Higher Education Borrowers
In addition to working to make higher education in Wisconsin more affordable for future students, Governor Evers is also addressing some of the issues that have made student debt such a problem for so many borrowers.
In January of 2020, Governor Evers created the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt to assess the state of Wisconsin’s education borrowers and propose solutions on how to address the crisis. This task force found that Wisconsin residents have more than $24 billion of outstanding student loan debt. Unfortunately, some of this burden exists unnecessarily due to either inadequate information provided to borrowers or a lack of positive actions by loan servicers that could reduce an individual’s debt balance.
To help ensure that our Wisconsin residents get the best guidance to pay off their student loan debt, the governor is proposing the creation of a student loan borrower bill of rights and an Office of Student Loan Ombudsman within the Department of Financial Institutions.
- The borrower bill of rights will require student loan servicers to provide complete and accurate information to borrowers on payment options and would ensure that our residents be treated fairly.
- The borrower bill of rights will require student loan servicers to provide information on income-based repayment plans prior to placing an individual borrower in default and require loan servicers to respond to borrowers in a timely manner.
- Loan servicers would be prohibited from omitting or misrepresenting material information.
- The Office of Student Loan Ombudsman will oversee the implementation of the borrower bill of rights, function as a central resource for information for student loan borrowers, and if necessary, revoke the license of a loan servicer imposing unjustified harm on borrowers.
Additionally, the governor further recommends that all state and local public employers be required to provide information regarding student loan forgiveness programs to their employees.
The governor recognizes that the UW-Extension, now a division within the UW-Madison, provides critical support for farmers and other agriculture-industry parties. While the previous executive budget and legislation during the 2019-20 session included new funding and positions to expand local access to county-based agricultural agents, the Legislature failed to extend its support. This budget again recognizes the importance of local outreach and education conducted by UW-Extension.
- The budget provides $2 million to fund 15.0 FTE county-based agriculture experts, as well as 5.0 FTE research specialists, two of whom will specialize in climate science.
- The time spent by UW-Extension specialists providing education in the field will be officially recognized as teacher hours, similar to classroom teacher hours.
Climate, Environment and Sustainability
The governor proposes additional budget initiatives for the UW System that address our climate, our environment, and sustainability. As noted above, the budget supports two UW-Extension research specialists for climate science research. The governor’s budget also proposes:
- Providing $9 million over the biennium to advance water-centric training, research, and innovation at UW-System’s Freshwater Collaborative.
- Providing $365,000 in each fiscal year for the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology at UW Stevens Point, which aims to help businesses and organizations find ways to more sustainably use Wisconsin’s natural resources.
- Providing UW-Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute more than $900,000 over the biennium to foster partnerships with surrounding communities to address environmental concerns.
- Bolstering the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene’s ability to provide research regarding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, emerging contaminants, and state soil health through the provision of two faculty positions and associated funding.