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Walker proposes higher ed budget

December 13, 2012

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has proposed initiatives to change how public higher education would receive government funding. This change would affect all UW System schools, including UW-River Falls.

The proposed changes would distribute money to Wisconsin Technical Colleges and schools in the UW System based on student performance and graduation rates.

Walker outlined his proposal at a gathering at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. on Nov. 16.

He said that his proposal would make certain that state money is spent more wisely, and is going to schools that have a proven record of doing right by their students as shown through achievement data and graduation rates.

UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen explained that a number of states utilize performance-based funding for higher education, although there are dramatic differences in how it is operationalized.

“It is important when considering performance measures to recognize the unique missions and student populations of different universities,” Van Galen said. “That is, one size does not fit all.”

The governor’s plan comes under strict scrutiny from Democratic opponents who argue that it is a form of “social engineering.” The proposed changes could force students to study what industry wants rather than what the students themselves want.

While Walker has only spoken generally about the concept thus far, it is expected that specific details will be worked out and a proposal would be a part of his budget for 2013-2015 which he will unveil in February of 2013.

“It will not be until early 2013 when the details and potential impacts on UWRF are known,” Van Galen said.

At the State Education Conference in January, Walker outlined reform legislation that is based on reading achievement, a new indicator of educator effectiveness and school accountability.

The governor is not just focused on funding for higher education.

He wants to makes changes to the system that will help to produce a more skilled labor force for the many jobs in Wisconsin that are currently vacant.

Earlier this year, Walker, along with some leads of the UW System, introduced a new flexible degree program through the UW System.

The flexible online program will allow students to start when they want and work at their own pace. It is also competency-based, which means students can get credit for what they already know.

It is expected to be up and running within a year and will start by offering programs in three fields: health, manufacturing and engineering and IT/software.

A statement released by Walker’s office on Nov. 28, 2012, explained “there is a need for skilled workers in a number of high demand areas such as manufacturing, information technologies and healthcare. We can help bridge the skills gap by allowing individuals who have learned skills from their employment, from military service, or from other areas to work toward a degree at their own pace.”

Van Galen said that while it is important to address skills gaps within our state, we must also recognize that “higher order skills” such as critical thinking, communicating, working in teams and possessing intercultural competency are necessary for success in all careers.

“These skills enable a person to advance in a changing job market throughout their career.”

Criticisms of the budget reforms in the current 2011-2013 budget that were put forward by Walker in 2011 are what mainly led to the recall election held last June. As it is currently unclear what the budget reforms for the 2013-2015 budget will be, it only keeps people wondering just exactly what is in store for the state and especially higher education funding going into the next budget cycle.

UWRF student Jeanie Untiedt said that she has no idea what might happen with the new budget, but that it will most likely lead to a rise in tuition costs or some other burden for students.

“I am just glad that I am graduating very soon because with all the cuts that had to be made in previous years for UWRF because of lack of funding or other reasons, who knows what is to be expected in years to come.”