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Walker budget proposal, seen as reinvestment in UW System, could mean trouble for student organizations

February 9, 2017

A budget proposal by Gov. Scott Walker to reinvest in the UW System has been receiving mixed reactions concerning several different proposed policies.

On Tuesday, Walker announced a reinvestment of the state government in the UW System, proposing a budget increase of more than $100 million, as well as a list of policies focused toward college affordability and building up the Wisconsin workforce through higher education. The full 2017-2019 Executive Budget was then presented to the Wisconsin Legislature on Wednesday.

“The UW System plays a key role in developing our future workforce,” said Walker in a press release. “Our investment today ensures student success by making college even more affordable, providing greater opportunities for students to earn their degree, and helping to bridge the gap between higher education and our workforce. We want our students to fuel the growth of our economy.”

In his budget proposal, Walker laid out plans to make higher education more affordable for students, including cutting tuition for resident undergraduate students by five percent, which, according to the press release, would save students an average of $360 per year.

In order to make up for the tuition cut, there will also be a General Purpose Revenue (GPR) increase of $35 million in the UW System’s block grant.

Other policies laid out in Walker’s budget proposal include doubling the number of core credits that transfer between the institutions in the Wisconsin Technical College System and the UW System, financially rewarding universities and colleges in the UW System on performance-based criteria and requiring students to have an internship or work experience before graduating.

The budget proposal has received support from many officials within the UW System, with UW System President Ray Cross and Board of Regents President Regina Millner releasing statements recognizing the need of the state government to reinvest in the UW System.

“We appreciate the governor’s investment in the UW System. As Regents, we have a strong responsibility to keep the UW System affordable and accessible for Wisconsin families while protecting the quality and excellence for which we are known the world over,” said Millner. “Our graduates contribute to thriving communities, a robust workforce, and globally competitive businesses. Wisconsin families, businesses, and communities are depending on the UW System to do what it has always done so well – meet the challenges of today and help prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.”

UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen, who attended the budget address in Madison on Wednesday, said that he is encouraged by the renewed commitment of Wisconsin leaders to the UW System.

“While there are details of the Governor’s proposal that will require further analysis, I am committed to working with our elected officials and other leaders during the state budget process to ensure the best possible outcome for the UW System and our campus,” said Van Galen.

One policy in the budget proposal that has caught the eye of UWRF students and the Student Senate is the proposed policy to allow students in the UW System to “opt-out” of paying allocable segregated fees, additional fees students pay that fund student activities and services.

At UWRF, allocable segregated fees cover the operating budgets of the student organizations, Student Media Committee (which funds the four student media organizations on campus), the Student Senate and programming and events through the Office of Student Involvement, including Finals Fest and Homecoming and Family Weekend.

According to the UWRF website, each student paid about $50 in allocable segregated fees for the spring 2017 semester.

There are currently 140 student organizations on campus, according to Darren Ward, a graduate student intern for the Office of Student Involvement. These student organizations vary from fraternities and sororities, identity-based and cultural, academic, performing arts, political, religious, social action and hobbies and social organizations.

It is still unclear, if the budget proposal passes, how exactly students will be able to “opt-out,” whether it will be in certain categories such as “student government,” that individual students can decide not to fund, or if individual line items will be available where students can pick and choose which student organizations and other student services they wish to fund.

According to the budget proposal press release, the reasoning behind this policy is to give students the power to decide what they do and do not want to fund, stating, “Allocable fees do not go towards long-term commitments or ongoing operational costs of the university owned and controlled buildings.”

Student Senate President Chris Morgan called the policy “incredibly irresponsible,” saying that it would be putting vital programs at the university at risk.

“They say these aren’t long-term commitments, tell that to the Student Voice that’s over 100 years old, tell that to the student government that was founded in 1937,” said Morgan. “These are programs that bring the campus together, and my fear with this policy is that that is all up for grabs now. That’s all up to be lost.”

Morgan said that he encourages all students who find issue with this proposed policy to get in touch with their legislators and to call the governor’s office to voice their concerns. Members of the Student Senate will also be traveling to Madison on Feb. 16 with the UW System Student Representatives to meet with lawmakers to lobby on different issues concerning education.

“The more you understand the situation, the more you should be concerned,” said Morgan. “I don’t know who’s driving this, but we’re going to try really hard to make sure they lose on this one.”

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