UW System surplus takes center stage
State lawmakers grilled Kevin Reilly over the UW System's $648 million surplus.
First, it could get worse before it gets better for the University of Wisconsin and its budget. The legislative fiscal bureau reports that the UW System finished 2012 with $648 million in reserves, including 414 million in surplus tuition dollars. These figures have legislators seeing red, not black. Before a legislative committee this week, they demanded to know how the university could plead poverty in previous budget cycles, all the while amassing big reserves in student tuition and fees.
Students from all over the state have said, you know what, we've taken out loans,. We’ve taken out grants. We have two or three jobs. We want to finish our degrees. And they told us how difficult it is to get through the university system and the amount of debt they have. And yet here we have accounts of tuition being squirreled away at the same time that you raised tuition. What is your intent? What is your leadership intent of managing the UW money in this way?
We're always trying to avoid that situation where we get to a biennium where we say, wow, the state budget is down, we're back in another recession, gifts and grants are down, people aren’t giving as much money, and we have fewer students. How are we going to educate the ones that are left? Because so much of our budget now is tuition-based, because of the state's relative withdrawal of its portion.
You have shown that you are not capable of managing that, and I cannot see a time when we would say we trust you. Because the trust has been broken.
We need to come forward with a policy on what an appropriate reserve is. That’s one of the basic questions. How much money should you have in these reserves and which reserves should you have it in. And we’ll have a public discussion of that. That’s one of our reactions. And then we'll also come up with what I think I heard we need, which is a more detailed financial reporting on an annual basis.
But I certainly think, in light of the fact that a billion dollars of money was found, it is going to change the discussion as to how we give money to the university going forward.
I just hope that, obviously, it's the students who have paid the bulk of the amount of money that is available, and I hope that the students will gain the greatest benefit with whatever changes we make going forward.