Did you get a call from Rebecca Blank last night?
On Monday night, the Wisconsin Alumni Association called more than 60,000 Badgers across Wisconsin, giving them a chance to hear about the proposed university budget directly from Chancellor Rebecca Blank. In an hour long conference call, the chancellor took questions from more than two dozen alumni and directly addressed thousands more.
In late January, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed a budget that would cut $300 million from the UW System. As a trained economist, Blank was able to break down complicated budget issues for her listeners. As she explained, the cuts will almost certainly force layoffs and damage the university’s ability to retain top talent and win new research grants.
Demystifying the Budget
The Chancellor addressed a number of common misperceptions about university funding. For example, an alumnus from Sun Prairie pointed out that people see buildings and construction all over campus and assume that the university has unlimited resources. However, Chancellor Blank explained that most buildings are state-funded capital projects, a completely separate budget item from educational funding.
Why UW Matters
Blank also talked extensively about the UW System’s role as an economic engine for the state. In particular, one caller wondered why the university does not do more to highlight successful companies, such as Epic Systems, which was founded by a UW-Madison graduate.
Blank says the university is working hard not only to highlight these success stories, but to explain how university funding is essential to such successes. “A state that doesn’t have a major research university is a state that is not going to be able to attract high-tech companies interested in top talent and resources,” she says.
The budget includes a tuition freeze for students from Wisconsin and several callers wanted to know how the cuts would affect tuition. The chancellor says the university will likely accept more out-of-state students and raise out-of-state tuition. “We’re near the bottom in terms of out of state tuition, but our quality is top rate,” she says. “We should be raising out-of-state to near the median rate, more in line with other Big Ten schools.”
She suggested that the university will increase in the share of out-of-state students — currently capped at 27 percent — up to 30 percent of all students on campus
Supporting the UW
One participant wanted to know if alumni donations matter at this time and whether alumni support will only encourage legislators to cut the budget even more. But Blank believes that private donations help the university use state budget dollars more effectively to bring in the best students, teachers, and researchers. “Donations help attract and maintain the best talent,” she says. “We can’t use state funding tuition for that. Donations help us improve our resources, maintain our reputation for excellence, and compete for federal research dollars.”
Lobbying the Legislature
A number of alumni wanted to know how to get involved and help lobby their legislators to minimize the effect of these budget cuts. Blank asked alumni in Wisconsin to reach out to their representatives as much as possible. “We need a steady stream of people contacting their legislators,” she says.
Make Your Voice Heard
Learn more about the impact of the budget on UW-Madison and contact your elected representatives. To get involved, please visit our Advocacy Center.