JFC Testimony: Mark Schwartz

This testimony can be watched at WisconsinEye:
beginning at 00:03:10.

Prof. Mark D. Schwartz,
University Committee Chair

I’m Mark D. Schwartz, a climatologist, professor of Geography, and Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair at UW-Milwaukee.

How would you regard an organization that has enhanced the quality of its products over 35 years, but not increased its costs, when adjusted for output level and inflation? Well, I expect most people would be favorably impressed.

Regardless, and perhaps surprisingly, that is an accurate financial description of the UW-System, and UW-Milwaukee, rendered in the simplest economic terms. Your first reaction might be—that can’t be true—I know that tuition has risen dramatically over that same time period. Indeed, tuition has risen dramatically, but at the same time State support for the UW-System and UW-Milwaukee has also dropped dramatically. Pointedly, these trends are near mirror images. So when you sum these two together, which are the major sources of revenue for the University, and adjust them for the number of students and inflation, that total has basically risen at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index, over the 1980-2014 period.

Now, this simple truth has been lost in accusations about the cause of the dramatic rise in tuition at public universities. Almost everything else has been blamed: faculty/staff salaries, administrative bloat, tenure, shared governance; yet this simple economic truth negates all those arguments. It bears repeating, the cause of the dramatic rise in tuition at public universities like UW-Milwaukee and its sister campuses in the UW-System is due to systematic disinvestment by State government, NOT rises in university costs.

Education is the spirit and soul of society, and how it propagates itself from one generation to the next. Public higher education has been the path to better lives for many in our nation (including myself), and their gains have enhanced our overall prosperity. So, as you contemplate the UW-System budget, I ask you to remember that simple economic truth regarding our costs. Further, please ask yourselves if cutting UW-System funding is either a wise choice now, or a responsible choice in regard to the future of the great state of Wisconsin. Thank you for listening.