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Under New Budget, UW System Siphons Some Money From Madison To Smaller Campuses

UW-Milwaukee stands to benefit the most of any UW campus, under a provision in the system's new budget.

As Wisconsin's legislature struggles to finish its biennial budget, the UW Board of Regents has already approved its financial blueprint for the upcoming year.

But things look a bit different this time around. UW System leaders have changed the formula for distributing funds across campuses -- and that means some schools will see less money than in years past.

Back in May, state lawmakers approved a $25 million increase for the UW System in the 2017-18 school year. That’s money the system hasn’t seen in the past few budget cycles.

UW officials typically split up funds according to an enrollment-based formula – funneling more money to bigger campuses, like UW-Madison. But this time, leaders say they want to help campuses that have suffered due to state budget cuts and declining enrollments.

So, the Board of Regents is stripping $6.5 million that would ordinarily go to UW-Madison, and distributing it among other campuses.

Some higher education advocates say the new formula is unfair, and pits campuses against one another.

"I hope in the future, there'll be sufficient funding for everyone"

UW Regent Janice Mueller voiced her disappointment during the board’s meeting Thursday. She pointed out that the state’s flagship campus educates and employs a large portion of the system’s population.

“I can appreciate the thought process that went into this, in terms of reallocating funds to other campuses, but those of us who live in Madison woke up to those headlines saying the flagship might potentially be hurt,” Mueller said.

“I hope in the future, there’ll be sufficient funding for everyone,” she added.  

The new distribution will benefit UW-Milwaukee and UW-Whitewater the most.

UW-Madison leaders say they’re willing to take a hit to help fellow campuses – as long as it’s a “one-time measure.” Outside the additional funding structure, the flagship campus also stands to receive around $2 million through other budget initiatives, including funding for a proposed public policy center named for former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson.

State superintendent Tony Evers – who also sits on the Board of Regents – was among the members who defended the changes. But Evers also pointed out that all system campuses could use more money to succeed.

“If there’s any controversy in my mind, it’s around the issue that 17 percent of our budget comes from the state of Wisconsin directly,” Evers explained. “If it [were] higher, if there was a greater investment on the part of the state, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

The regents approved a total $6.2 billion budget Thursday. The plan increases student fees and on-campus housing costs – but keeps tuition for in-state students flat. 

The board will incorporate any further changes that pass the legislature, once that body finalizes its plans, this summer. 

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