By Jack Martinek
In the winter of 2015-16, hundreds of students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire looked at their degree audits and realized that their plans for “four years and done” on campus may have been affected. Between eliminated electives, reduced section offerings, and rearrangement of some majors, there was a very real possibility that they would not graduate when they had originally anticipated.
Many budget inevitabilities were shouldered by faculty and facilities as open positions were eliminated and services were downsized or cut. UW-Eau Claire absorbed $7.7 million of the $250 million system wide cut. Per the budget fact sheet presented to the UW Board of Regents that translated to 69 fewer teaching positions, 197 fewer class sections per semester, and an increase in class size of 14%.
Kara Stuckmayer, a senior majoring in kinesiology, remembers the anxious scramble of last spring, and the effects that the budget cuts had on her school experience.
“I was on track to for a spring graduation, but the combination of switching majors and fewer class options forced my graduation date back to December of 2017. Now I’m paying another semester of tuition. So it feels like the state is saving money and I’m spending money,” Stuckmayer said.
Now, less than a year after the full impact of these cuts has been felt, Governor Scott Walker has formally unveiled his 2017-2019 budget before the state legislature. A proposal that will yet again shake things up in the UW System. The budget will include a 5% reduction in tuition, $135 million in new funding including $42.5 million to be awarded on a performance basis, and the requirement that UW schools offer students a three-year bachelor degree option. The budget will also offer “freedom of choice” for students with an opportunity to opt out on segregated fees that go toward campus activities and student government.
While the budget has yet to go through the legislative process, this course change from the famously frugal governor is already provoking opinions from legislators. Democratic representative Dana Wachs of the 91st Assembly District says the budget may be a step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done.
“I think the state needs to stand up and do the right thing and fund the UW System. The state is not doing enough to fund our schools, and a lot of students are suffering from high interest debts and that needs to stop. Tuition decreases are good but it needs to be funded,” Wachs said.
Governor Walkers new budget will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee and will then come before the full legislature.