Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Balancing act: College affordability and quality

It was my pleasure to welcome Governor Scott Walker to our campus today, where he had the opportunity to visit with our students and to discuss the topic of college affordability, including his proposal for an additional two-year tuition freeze for the UW System.

As chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, college affordability is one of my primary concerns. I believe today’s students should have access to an education that is equal to, or better than, the education provided to generations of students before them, including me. While keeping college affordable, we also need to keep our eye keenly focused on quality. As Governor Walker stated this morning during his visit to campus, UW-Eau Claire and the UW System are among the finest institutions in the nation — and recent rankings by national publications including this week’s U.S. News & World Report reflect that.

The 2015-17 biennial budget approved by the UW System regents last month includes a two-year tuition freeze and also a request for $95 million in strategic investment in Wisconsin’s public universities. The budget request, if approved, will enable UW-Eau Claire to continue to address talent gap challenges in Wisconsin. The budget reflects an understanding that the UW System is a key to ensuring social and economic prosperity for the state of Wisconsin and its people.

Another two-year tuition freeze would certainly have a major impact on the finances of UW-Eau Claire. We are already anticipating an additional cut of at least $3 million in the coming year to address the current tuition freeze. Any additional freezes, not coupled with additional appropriations, will have a significant effect. While limited fund balances have cushioned the impacts of the current tuition freeze and budget reductions, we are now left with a structural deficit to deal with.

This will be my first biennial budget as chancellor of UW-Eau Claire, and I intend to work with our area legislators, regents and the Governor’s office to encourage passage of the UW System proposed budget and the inclusion of strategic investment that will provide our private sector partners with the graduates that will help them grow their businesses.