UW-Superior Facing Fiscal Troubles

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UW-Superior Facing Fiscal Troubles

Premiere Date: 
July 18, 2014

UW-Superior Chancellor Renée Wachter explains the campus' shortfall and its impacts.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

In higher ed. news, the budget-cutting knives are out at Wisconsin's northernmost university. UW-Superior has to make up a $4.5 million shortfall in the next five years. Already the campus has seen program cuts and layoffs. We check in now with UW-Superior chancellor, Renee Wachter, to find out more.  Chancellor, thanks very much for being here.

Renee Wachter:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

What caused your budget problems?  

Renee Wachter:

It's really been what you would consider to be the perfect storm, and over the last few years it's been a confluence of factors. One has been declining enrollments, not just at our institution but really across the state of Wisconsin. Couple that with what's happening with the economic environment, and then what's happening with the funding of higher education. And this last round of budget cuts in this biennium, I think, was one of the tipping points that really had us really seriously looking at, what do we need to do to poise ourselves to be positioned for the future?

Frederica Freyberg:

And I understand that one of the things that you've done to poise yourself for the future is cutting programs, four master programs, I understand, two undergraduate programs and then layoff notices to some 26 buildings and grounds workers. How difficult is that to do?

Renee Wachter:

It's been a challenging process. The process that we use to look at our programs was one that's been used across the country. So it was an established methodology, even though everybody customized it to their own campus. It's not just looking at academic programs, it’s looking at non-academic programs as well, to see, where can we find efficiencies? We realize that these are things we have to stop doing in order to do things that might position us for the future. So in particular, looking at our program array was one of those activities. With regard to some of the other things that we're looking at, we haven't given layoff notices, but what we did tell employees in custodial and grounds is that this is an area where we need to start to look at savings. We need to be good stewards of the resources that we have, and that means looking at all the areas of the budget and all areas of the campus operations to try to figure out how can we best use those resources and get the results that we need and preserve the academic experience for students.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is this kind of just the first step of those kinds of cuts, or do you anticipate having to make more?

Renee Wachter:

It's an ongoing process. It culminated with sort of the self-study in the spring, but the process will be ongoing as we keep looking at various areas to look at, what is the appropriate configuration? What’s the appropriate level of staffing? As well as, trying to grow the revenue side of the campus and say, are there programs in which we can be more effective? We can perhaps change the format, look at new audiences. And that is an ongoing process.

Frederica Freyberg:

How does the tuition freeze that's in place affect your situation?

Renee Wachter:

The tuition freeze is very challenging, and it's not just for us, but it really is across the system as well. You know, if you look at that pie chart or the bar graph about where are universities funded, how are they funded? It’s two big components, it's state funding and tuition, sort of the student side of the piece. And it literally maps almost one to one that when state funding goes down, tuition necessarily rises to help fill in that cap. And so, as you know, over the last few biennia, it's been a very challenging environment in terms of support from the state.

Frederica Freyberg:

So all of that said, what concerns do you have going forward that these budget cuts will hurt your university and its ability to attract students, possibly hurting enrollment even more, and then faculty?  

Renee Wachter:

It makes it very challenging because when you look at things like compensation, tuition does help fund compensation for faculty on campuses. And I think what people tend to forget is your institutions really are made up of the brain power of those faculty and staff, and you need to be able to use compensation as a way, not only to attract people, but to keep them there as well. There's a point at which not everybody lives to be paid the highest wage possible, but there's a level at which they can't afford to stay at your institution because it becomes a disadvantage. So, you know, I think the compensation piece is going to be really challenging. It's unfortunate. I don't think that people really realize what those cuts are going to mean, that it's going to be a compounding effect. So it wasn’t just this year that was challenging, but next year that effect compounds, and the year after that. When you start looking at what that tuition level is going to be to help offset the hole that keeps being dug, it's going to be quite significant.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, we wish you luck with dealing with all of that. Thanks for joining us today, Chancellor, out of Superior.

Renee Wachter:

Thank you. 


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