Tuesday Trends sample: Home sales rising, UW System mixed and jobs outlook falling
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Home sales: Sales of existing homes in Wisconsin recorded strong growth in May, rising 18.9 percent compared to the same month last year. The most recent monthly report by the Wisconsin Realtors Association also says median home prices in the state rose to $138,000, up by 1.5 percent compared to the same month last year. It's the tenth consecutive month of double-digit sales growth, and the third straight month that the statewide median price has increased. Year-to-date home sales are up over 20 percent over the same period in 2011.
UW System: University of Wisconsin officials have long sought ways to do more with less in an era of tight state budgets and increasing campus demands. Now UW System leaders and Gov. Scott Walker have unveiled what they say is a big step in the right direction, rolling out an online degree program they say is the first of its kind undertaken by any public university in the world. It's dubbed the UW Flexible Degree, aiming to allow students to either apply already acquired knowledge to state testing, or take flexible, affordable online coursework through either UW campuses or other accredited universities. The program would particularly target adult learners in an effort to raise the percentage of Wisconsin adults with a college degree, which lags the national average. Walker stresses the potential impact on veterans returning to the workforce, and says the program could help address a skills gap that's preventing some businesses from expanding in the state. A cost estimate isn't ready yet, but officials say the bulk of the funding would be required to set up testing -- something that Walker says will ensure that the program is "worthy of a University of Wisconsin degree" -- and that most of the other components are already in place. UW officials hope to roll out the first classes this fall, with entire programs up and running within a year. The online proposal gets good press, but the System falters in other areas. Just two weeks after the UW Board of Regents voted to hike tuition by another 5.5 percent, a national report issued by a group with ties to conservatives ranks Wisconsin's higher education system in the bottom half of states. The report card from the Institute for a Competitive Workforce -- affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- gives Wisconsin's four-year schools a "C" for student access and success and for meeting market demand, a "B" for efficiency and cost-effectiveness," and a "D" for transparency and accountability.
Jobs outlook: The state Department of Revenue releases its latest economic outlook report, saying a slowdown in hiring has, in part, contributed to a slower pace of economic recovery. The analysis shows that while the economy continues to improve, employment gains, personal income growth and national consumption growth each slowed in the last few months. The labor market, in particular, has experienced smaller gains over the last three months than in 2011 and the early months of 2012. The DOR report projects 1 percent job growth in 2012 and 1.7 percent job growth in 2013, and estimates the state won't return to its pre-recession employment peaks until early 2015. But those forecasts are slightly better than the department's winter projections, which showed employment growing by 1 percent in 2012, but only improving to 1.1 percent in 2013 and 1.6 percent in 2014. That's an increase, observers say, but still anemic growth. Tax collections, meanwhile, were up 5.7 percent over the same time last year.