Tech Council report warns of continuing higher ed cuts

A new Wisconsin Technology Council report warns further state budget cuts to higher education “will prove costly over time.”

The report makes several recommendations for the state, including the establishment of a blue-ribbon commission that would look at university funding, tuition levels, boosting research and commercializing technology and how to best use tech colleges and the two-year UW Colleges.

It highlights several case studies of research driving the state’s economy, but notes such activity “could run dry in future years if state support for higher education declines.” And it says the only way the state could keep top faculty is ensuring they “have the freedom to teach, research and grow.”

“Faculty members won’t have time to conduct research if teaching loads become heavier, and the value of what they teach will be diminished if there’s not a balance of research and ‘service,’ which is broadly defined but includes starting young companies,” the group wrote.

The report also notes the tenure changes at UW that have gotten pushback from faculty “reflect best tenure policy practices nationally.” Tech Council President Tom Still said the group’s board, largely made up of business leaders, felt the new policy protects academic freedom while ensuring tenure isn’t designed to “keep somebody’s job at all costs.”

The report also calls for more funding to state financial aid, noting thousands of students who can’t get help because there isn’t enough money to go around. The report adds there’s room for savings through consolidating administrative functions, noting the savings the state’s private colleges have found by working together.

It also said the UW System should work harder to make sure there’s enough support for industry collaborations, specifically mentioning the conflict-of-interest rules that sometimes get in the way.

And it encouraged lawmakers to better understand the differences between doctoral-granting institutions such as UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee and other four-year campuses.

One way to do so, the group suggested, is by comparing UW-Madison to the nation’s top 25 research universities. UW-Milwaukee, meanwhile, needs to be compared to similar non-flagship major metro institutions whose missions include ensuring students can access higher education, the group wrote.

“Wisconsin must maintain UW-Madison’s status as a top-five research university, elevate UW-Milwaukee’s capacity in the state’s largest city and maintain excellence and access for our four-year comprehensive campuses,” the group wrote. “Attempts to standardize missions would be stultifying and unresponsive to a changing marketplace.”

Other recommendations include:

*encouraging high school students to get a “head start” on college credits;

*improving transferability of credits within UW System campuses;

*developing a “mission investing” approach to wealthy alumni outreach, so some of those alumni might help by passing on knowledge and investing in entrepreneurial efforts, rather than just being asked to cut large checks to UW;

*and ensuring each UW campus has an office similar to UW-Madison’s Office of Corporate Relations that has significant support from chancellors.

Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said Walker’s “priority for higher education is to provide the best education possible while making it more affordable for students and their families.”

See the report

— By Polo Rocha,