Budget News and State of Higher Education

Dear Colleagues,

I hope your spring semester is off to a strong start. Today, I write with updates on our budget and to announce a town hall on March 13, at which we will share details on the refreshed 2030 Action Plan, discuss budget developments and answer questions. Please look for an email invitation in the coming days.

2024-25 Budget Planning

In late January, deans and division heads received 2024-25 budget allocation targets. All unit heads are currently preparing detailed budgets to align with the targets. Colleges and divisions must then manage spending to meet their budgets without the expectation that institutional budgets will cover operating deficits, even temporarily. This will require difficult decisions in several units across UWM.

We are pleased that eligible UWM employees will be awarded another pay increase in summer 2024. As part of the 2023-25 biennial operating budget, the state legislature approved a 4% aggregate increase in Universities of Wisconsin (UWs) employee wages that was effectuated in January 2024. We will see another 2%, effective July 1, 2024. As always, UWM will need to self-fund part of the compensation increase; the tuition increases in effect this academic year after a 10-year resident undergraduate tuition freeze will cover a large portion of the self-funded portion of the pay plan. In all past years during the freeze, UWM paid for the self-funded portion of the pay plan by reducing expenses in other ways, such as through employee reductions.

Our Environment: Challenges and Opportunities

Higher education continues to be impacted by inflation, enrollment declines and public concerns about the value of a college degree. More institutions have shut down, and some experts are predicting universities are now facing two enrollment cliffs.

We continue to study these trends and learn from peer institutions that are tackling the same challenges. Although there are many articles and studies available on the topic, these three stand out, and we encourage you to read them.

Some of the most startling observations from the articles are that most high school students don’t think they need a college degree, and that Americans have lost confidence in higher education at a staggering rate. We firmly believe that a college degree is still the single most impactful way to foster lasting change in someone’s life by creating economic prosperity and social mobility.

Great Care and Efforts Needed

The information above is not easy to read. It does provide opportunity, however. UWM plays a vital role in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, and throughout the world. We enable social mobility and drive the intellectual growth of people in the Milwaukee region and across Wisconsin. UWM’s diverse and talented college graduates power our workforce. Our research fuels the economy. Our partnerships improve the lives of our students, their families and our community.

To continue and to thrive in our vital work, UWM will benefit from self-review for improvement. To those who think we are fine on our current course – akin to “We’ve experienced budget challenges in the past, and it always ends up fine” – let me be clear: The time for action and change is now.

If we do not better demonstrate our value to students and our community, we will likely face further enrollment headwinds, leading to further cutbacks to budgets and personnel. Instead, we need to be and are committed to steering our future in a positive and sustainable direction, fulfilling our unique mission of access, research and engagement.

Student Success and Strategic Investment

UWM is making strategic investments to support areas of growth. We are continuing one-time support to our more impactful financial aid and student success initiatives, including launching the Milwaukee Tuition Promise for students arriving this fall. Also, for next fiscal year, in addition to dedicating one-time funding for student success initiatives, we established – for the first time – a strategic investment pool containing additional base funding to grow online programs, philanthropy and marketing to increase enrollment.

Finally, though we experienced a $1.9 million state base budget reduction in 2023-24, we anticipate final approval soon for UWM to receive new base funding of $2.5 million in state support. The legislature directed these funds toward initiatives to develop the workforce, leading to a UWs proposal to increase the number of graduates in engineering, computer science, data science, nursing, health care and business.

In this environment, student enrollment and retention of current students are critically important, both to meet UWM’s mission of student success and to strengthen our financial future. Every 1% in student enrollment and retention equates to approximately $2 million for UWM’s budget. If we do not meet our enrollment targets this fall, a mid-year budget cut may be necessary. We must all work together to attract students to UWM and help them succeed.

What Can You Do to Help?

Ensuring student success and UWM’s success is not one person’s job. We all must own and implement these efforts. This includes identifying new ways to do things, not only at department, college and unit levels, but also across institution-wide operations. For UWM to succeed, we need an “all-in” effort with our best minds working collaboratively and openly.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Learn about campus resources so you can help support students. Familiarize yourself with our many resources, including health, emotional support, finances and academics. Consider attending a SupportU workshop to learn how to identify and support students who may be experiencing challenges or crises.
  • Get involved in Campus Cares. This work supports student, faculty and staff well-being across campus, and helps create a culture of care.
  • Engage in enrollment efforts. If you have not already signed up for the Admitted Student Day on March 2, contact your dean’s office to see how you can help.

If you are an instructor, there’s even more you can do:

  • Engage with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. CETL has multiple upcoming workshop series and, on March 27, is hosting a Transparency in Learning workshop about designing assignments to boost student success. CETL’s asynchronous training and accessibility is always available, as are many other resources.
  • Communicate with student care teams. Your progress reports really do make a difference. You can submit a student alert via Navigate at any time.
  • Collect formative feedback. While courses are in session and there is time to act on the feedback, give students opportunities to provide anonymous input on what would help their learning.

In addition:

  • If you have not already done so, participate in an upcoming visit to individual colleges with Provost Andrew Daire on important strategic and financial matters. Details will be forthcoming from the Office of the Provost.
  • Get ready to familiarize yourself with the refreshed 2030 Action Plan goals, which will include actions to address budget challenges. We will share more details at the upcoming town hall.
  • Overall, work collaboratively and openly toward a positive future.

We have many points of pride. You care for and have worked in extraordinary ways to support our students and each other. Your daily efforts contribute to student success, knowledge production and innovation. I value and look forward to our continued work together to advance UWM.

Mark A. Mone, PhD

* The UWM Libraries makes the Wall Street Journal available to all staff and students with a valid ePantherID. Please use this link to access:  https://ezproxy.lib.uwm.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/pq1business/newspapers/why-americans-have-lost-faith-value-college-three/docview/2916358855/sem-2?accountid=15078