Balances in tuition reserve funds across the University of Wisconsin System are at their lowest levels since 2008. Without a significant cushion, some campuses are cutting spending and staff to address financial problems caused by declining enrollment, the coronavirus pandemic and eight years of frozen tuition.Data obtained by WPR through a state open records request show that leftover revenues known as tuition fund balances fell at most UW System campuses between the 2017-18 school year and June of 2020.Tuition fund balances are revenues left over after expenses are paid in a prior campus budget year and are used to safeguard a university against declines in revenue from tuition or reductions in state funding.
…A WPR review of balances for “unrestricted funds” — a broad category of funds that includes tuition reserves — at state universities shows only UW-Green Bay meets the benchmark of having three months of reserves on hand. UW System leaders have stressed for years that a majority of funds described as “unrestricted” are actually dedicated for things like future construction, maintenance, student assistance and paying debt service.
Green Bay is one of three campuses without a savings plan to see tuition balances grow between the 2017-18 school year and June 30, 2020. The university has bucked the trend of declining enrollment, reporting annual gains since 2015.
But because the campus’s tuition balances now makes up more than 12 percent of its expenditures, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Michael Alexander said it has to submit a plan showing how it will bring them down, another requirement from lawmakers.
“We need to make sure that we keep growing, that we spend that down appropriately and reinvest in the campus to keep us moving forward,” said Alexander.