A new Wisconsin Policy Forum report paints a grim picture of the future of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which was facing growing financial challenges even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Registrations were down. State aid per pupil is staggered. Tuition fees have been frozen.
All of these challenges alone paint a disturbing picture for the future of the state’s second-largest campus, which serves one of Wisconsin’s most diverse and underserved student populations.
The pandemic has put that future at risk even more, according to the report. The report was commissioned and partially funded by the UWM Foundation.
The analysis, released Thursday, puts data on long-standing warnings from UWM administrators that they need more support in their efforts to maintain the campus, which straddles a dual mission: to provide access to education. superior to the largest number of students and maintain its status as an elite research university.
“The trends we are discussing here endanger both of these missions,” said Jason Stein, policy forum research director.
The report comes during a larger conversation about how to better support UWM’s work in Milwaukee and beyond, particularly in light of the education equity gaps facing the city and the region are facing.
The different challenges of UWM are piling up, according to the forum.
Between 2013 and 2019, UWM suffered the fourth largest drop in enrollment compared to its national peers, at 6.4%. The amount of state funding per student the campus received in 2019 – $ 5,229 – was the third lowest in this group. And the campus had the second lowest combined income per student in terms of state funding, tuition, and tuition. At $ 14,038 in income per student, UWM was 23.1% lower than its peer group average.
The pandemic didn’t help either. The policy forum report found that UWM lost $ 91.8 million in revenue due to the pandemic, but only recovered $ 52.7 million through federal pandemic assistance.
These revenues are important in terms of paying the professors and staff who support and educate UWM students.
UWM has struggled to stay competitive in terms of hiring and the amount it spends on research and development, according to the forum. In 2020, UWM faculty earned $ 105,884 on average, 16.2% less than the median salary of their peers. Research and development spending fell 12.1% between 2011 and 2019, when the spending of UWM’s counterpart institutions as a whole increased by 13.8%.
Overall, UWM has 100 fewer faculty members than in 2010, even taking into account its merger with the Waukesha and Washington County campuses.
Meanwhile, student scores for retention rates and graduation rates, while improving, still show disparities. For example, white UWM students are twice as likely to graduate in six years as black students.
UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said in an interview with Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that the report highlighted the value UWM brings to the region and the progress made by faculty and staff despite the headwinds facing the region. the university is facing.
But he said the data outlined in the report is sobering and is what he and his predecessors have been trying to get attention to for years. He highlighted his latest loss: a faculty member who accepted a job at another university where he would be allowed to teach one course per year while doing his research.
“I can’t do it very often because I just don’t have the resources,” Mone said.
“How important is Milwaukee? “
The report comes as the UW System Board of Trustees began to have important conversations about funding UWM versus other UW schools. Despite its dual mission, UWM is funded more like a traditional comprehensive university and less like a research institution.
When the board met in June on the UWM campus, Regent Scott Beightol and others raised the idea of taking a closer look at how the board allocates money from the ‘State at each campus and more generally how UWM can be best supported.
“When Milwaukee is doing well, the rest of the state is doing well,” Regent Héctor Colón said at the meeting.
In a statement on the report, interim UW System chairman Tommy Thompson expressed his commitment to UWM.
“A vibrant public university in the greater Wisconsin metropolitan area – focused on both research and access – is key to all of Wisconsin’s success,” he said. “With the support of the board of directors and the business and community leaders, we will build UW -Milwaukee in the face of any challenge. This is one of our top priorities.”
This isn’t the first time the conversation about fund allocation has taken place, Mone said on Wednesday, although past discussions have brought “minimal, minimal change.” But the last resumption of the discussion was different, he said.
Mone said he didn’t want the conversation to turn into an “us versus them” fight across campuses, likening the situation to kids arguing over their inheritance. But he said he wanted to see the conversation move forward with regent leadership and a clear strategic vision around UWM’s role in meeting Wisconsin’s economic and educational needs.
“I think it’s time to ask the question: How important is Milwaukee? said Moné.
While the report does not specifically examine funding allocations in the UW system, Stein noted that discussions about changes to funding allocations would be difficult due to the limited increase in overall funding that the board has to work with. .
The latest state budget gave UW schools an additional $ 8.25 million in state taxpayer funding, a fraction of the $ 96 million requested by Thompson and about 4% of the $ 190 million. dollars requested by Governor Tony Evers.
But what’s at stake is a future in which UWM may be forced to make tough choices about what it can and can’t afford to do. The debate over whether UWM should choose just one mission – student access or research – is one that Mone has heard countless times, in different forms. But Mone said he believed in the value of both. Students learn best when they can participate in cutting-edge research.
“I really believe that’s our strength,” Mone said of the mission. “And at size and scale, it can work mightily well.”
UWM has been working to improve things within its means, Mone said, reallocating part of its budget to increase support and retention of students and faculty – such as faculty funding. from its famous School of Public Health – and building on record fundraising of $ 251 million.
But he said he hopes the report serves as a rallying cry. Without a change in enrollment trends and an increase in state support, “there is no question that the trends will go.”
“I think in the long run this report will serve us well to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘That’s what’s at stake,'” said Mone.