Chancellor’s Update: Budget News and Enrollment Efforts

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Dear UWM Faculty and Staff,

With the arrival of March, we are getting closer to warmer and brighter days. I hope this semester is progressing well for you as we near spring break. I write with the latest updates on budget issues including enrollment and other actions to advance UWM’s future success.

2019-21 Budget

The 2019-21 state budget was beneficial to UWM, with a modest increase in state appropriations, our largest-ever $192M biennial capital budget, and a 2%/2% compensation plan. The first phase of the pay plan was completed in January 2020 and the second will occur in January 2021.

Even with comprehensive efforts to enroll and retain students, our fall 2019 enrollments declined approximately 4%, resulting in a tuition revenue loss of about $7M. The extension for two more years of the undergraduate resident tuition freeze and the need for UWM to fund 30% of the 2019-21 pay plan compounds these enrollment challenges.

Due to careful fiscal management, we maintained FY20 budget levels, but explained in acampus budget message this past fall that FY21 would involve reductions. Each unit has received final budget allocations for FY21, and next year’s unit budgets are being built now. This involves hard choices to reduce expenses to account for reduced revenues. Please know that some units are facing more difficult scenarios than others, and thus, those units may need to adopt more urgent measures to address needed budget reductions.

What Actions Are We Taking to Address the Budget?

We can improve UWM’s financial future by increasing revenues via enrolling and retaining more students. Below I share many campus-level actions that are underway to address this. But first, I want to emphasize what each of us can do to help.

How Faculty and Staff Can Help to Retain Students

Admitting new students and retaining our current students are both important, but retention of continuing students has a larger impact on our budget. For each of us, having positive interactions with our students helps retention and, thus, is a priority.

We have an easy-to-use resource readily available: Student Success Best Practices, a weekly email with specific examples and links to resources on how we can all interact with students. A library of all messages is available here, and we welcome your feedback and contributions; please share your thoughts here.

A key to student success is demonstrating that we care about our students and their futures. Your contribution can be asking a student how the week is going or providing helpful guidance on an academic question. Students do better academically and feel like they belong here and when we demonstrate our care. UWM can be stronger and more effective if we all think of student success as a pivotal goal, one that we each own.

Financial Support

To address our students’ significant financial needs, we are increasing fiscal support as follows:

  • Increasing scholarship distributions to over $4M/year, which is an increase of $2.3M annually, stemming from raising $37M for scholarships over our seven-year comprehensive campaign
  • Continuing to provide $250K annually in student retention grants; this funding was first allocated in 18-19, and we continue to maximize strategic use of the funds
  • Providing new need-based financial aid of $727K for students in fall 2020 with a plan to increase the amount each year thereafter as student cohorts progress
  • Converting 2-year Chancellor Awards to 4-year awards beginning with students entering in fall of 2020, which provides students with a continued stream of support 
Other Support and Proactive MeasuresWe are also planning support for prospective and current students through:

  • Forming a persistence committee with cross-campus membership that follows up on students at risk of withdrawing from UW
  • Launching this month, a chatbot for admitted students to get 24/7 answers to questions regarding enrolling at UWM
  • Conducting a comprehensive survey this term to identify why students leave UWM to better inform future decision-making
  • Creating academic maps that show what specific courses a student needs to complete a degree program
  • Reviewing all admissions processes with an eye to streamline
  • Continuing efforts to enroll students through express admissions at high schools and events for admitted students
  • Launching an 18-month marketing campaign to attract and enroll students
  • Making the application process easier in 20-21 through streamlined application procedures, reduced application fees, a free application week, and new and refreshed application tools aimed to reduce the time spent on an application
Voluntary Separation Incentive Program

In light of reduced enrollments and to assist in reduction of expenses and overall employee numbers, we will roll out a voluntary separation incentive program (VSIP) this year.

Our committed and successful people are UWM’s single most important asset. We are grateful for the vital role our faculty and staff play in the success of our students and UWM. Thus, it will be unfortunate to see valued people leave. The VSIP is being offered as a tool to address current budget reductions, with the goal to maintain our high quality of teaching and research.

The program may be available for those with the following appointment types who are eligible for a full retirement annuity from the State, who have not submitted notice of resignation/retirement, and have not been non-renewed: faculty, academic staff with indefinite, rolling horizon, or fixed-term renewable appointments, limited appointees, and university staff with ongoing status. Each school, college, and division will determine which departments and positions are eligible for the VSIP, for positions that, if vacated, will present significant, ongoing costs savings and simultaneously allow UWM to preserve teaching and research excellence. Eligible employees will be individually notified in early to mid-April after positions that meet these criteria are identified by schools, colleges, and divisions.

The VSIP is not an employee benefit, but rather is a tool for units to help meet budget reductions and a voluntary option for eligible employees in units that meet the outlined terms. Details including the program details, a timeline, and FAQs are available here. The decision to utilize the VSIP was not easy, but our hope is that it allows UWM to address fiscal issues while maintaining high quality teaching and research.   

Other Actions

Drawing on the success of our comprehensive fundraising campaign, I am working with our Development team to advance several bridge campaigns. We’ve met with donors to support a Student Promise program to increase graduation rates, our Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, our planned new research vessel, and programming for our evolving Engineering Math and Sciences footprint.

We continue to advance actions plans for our strategic directions of:

  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  • Outstanding Learning Environment
  • Research Excellence
  • Community Engagement and Talent Pipeline
  • Sustainable Future for the Campus
The latest updates on action plans and each group’s activities for our near-term goals are available here.

The 2030+ Think Tank continues its work to examine long-term opportunities for UWM’s future. The group has met with all governance bodies, and will soon produce draft recommendations, on which they will solicit input before finalizing. The Think Tank’s charge and membership are online, with the group’s web site serving as a repository for meeting summaries and other resources. Planning for the 2021-23 state budget continues. Last month the Wisconsin State Assembly voted unanimously to support the UWM-led Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, and we now await news of a Senate vote date. We are also working with UW System on a Building a Diverse Workforce proposal as part of UW System’s budget request. We continue meetings and tours with elected officials, legislators, regents, and other influencers. And,our State Budget Information web site features the latest resources, news, and materials.

We face a future of challenges that we will treat as opportunities. Through creativity, collaboration and innovation, we will advance UWM to a positive future. I thank you all for your daily efforts for our students and UWM.

Best regards,

Mark A. Mone
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee