USA/February 19, 2021/ By: Devi Shastri. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Source: https://www.jsonline.com/
After months of concern about major state funding cuts to higher education in Wisconsin due to the pandemic, college and university leaders received a boost of optimism that their institutions may fare a bit better than feared in the next budget cycle.
Gov. Tony Evers unveiled his budget proposal for 2021-23 Tuesday night, which includes a $190 million spending boost for the University of Wisconsin System over the next two years. That is the largest proposed increase the UW schools have seen in more than 20 years.
Evers also earmarked $36 million more for the Wisconsin Technical College System over the next two years.
That’s nearly $100 million more than what former Gov. Tommy Thompson, now the interim leader of the UW System, asked for in August. It also is $12 million more than what the technical colleges requested.
The governor’s plan comes as the state’s universities and its allies, especially in the UW System, have been lobbying hard to prevent additional budget cuts amid losses from COVID-19.
The Legislature will spend the next few months rewriting the plan, after which it will head back to Evers who will be able to make additional changes through vetoes.
Here are major takeaways from the budget proposal.
UW System sees support for tuition freeze, other initiatives
Tuition freeze stays: Evers wants to keep the tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates, which has been in place since 2013. But he wants to offset the lost tuition dollars by providing universities with just over $50 million extra dollars over the next two years, money that they can use without restrictions.
Another boost: Evers also proposed $20 million of additional funding each fiscal year for UW schools that is without restrictions.
Bucky’s Tuition Promise for all: Evers pushed forward a plan from Thompson to expand Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which covers tuition and fees after scholarships and grants for Wisconsin students who are from households that make less that $60,000 annually. The $39 million plan would fund the program on every campus except UW-Madison, where it is already established.
Expanding nonresident tuition exemptions: The governor’s budget would expand exemptions for residents of certain Native American tribes, otherwise eligible students who are undocumented and resident active-duty service members and their families who are relocated to another state, allowing those groups to attend Wisconsin public universities at the in-state rate.
Recruiting and educating nursing professors: To respond to a shortage in nursing educators, Evers proposed putting $5 million toward fellowships and student loan repayment assistance to people who commit to teaching nursing at a UW school for at least three years.
Financial tools: The UW System’s Board of Regents would be allowed to invest certain program revenue outside the State of Wisconsin Investment Fund and also to obtain extensions of credit for short-term expenses related to educational and athletics programs.
UW Extension: Now a part of UW-Madison, UW Extension would receive $2 million to fund 15 full-time equivalent positions to work as county-based agriculture experts and five full-time equivalent research specialist positions, two of whom will focus on climate science.
Water and environmental research: The plan includes $9 million to fund UW System’s Freshwater Collaborative and more than $900,000 would go to UW-Superior’s Lake Superior Research Institute, which works to help businesses and organizations address environmental concerns.
Technical College System would get $18 million boost aimed at restarting state economy
Under Evers’ proposal, the technical college system and its institutions will receive $18 million more each of the next two years, a more than 17% budget increase. The money would be used to keep providing job training and education due to pandemic-related job losses.
The technical college system previously requested a $12 million funding increase each of the next two years, money officials have said will be used to provide 2,000 students each year with educational and academic support. The system plans to target adult basic education students and English language learners to help them earn short-term credentials and get them back into the state’s workforce.
Financial aid proposals for Wisconsin students
Increasing Wisconsin Grant funding: Evers proposed increasing Wisconsin Grant funding by 10% each of the next two years, for a total of about $18.6 million more for UW students, $6.9 million for WCTS students, $144,600 for students enrolled at tribal colleges and $8.6 million for those at private, nonprofit colleges. Colleges have long advocated for more Wisconsin grant funding for students who have financial need, pointing to long waitlists and growing student need.
Minority Undergraduate Retention Program: Evers’ proposal would double funding for the program, which provides students of color with grants up to $2,500 per year to help them stay in school.
Student borrower’s bill of rights
Based on recommendations from the task force on student debt commissioned by Evers in January 2020, the governor proposed creating a “student loan borrower’s bill of rights” that would require student loan servicers to provide borrowers with information on income-based repayment plans before putting the borrower in default. It would also require servicers to respond to borrowers in a timely manner.
A new Office of Student Loan Ombudsman would make sure that the bill of rights is being followed and revoke servicers’ licenses if they are harming borrowers. The office will also serve as an informational resource for borrowers.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.