Is UWGB headed towards the same fate as UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside and others?
UW-Green Bay announced in October layoffs for nine non-faculty positions and earlier in November said it’s considering cutting six majors and minors as it prepares for the future reality of higher education.
Is UWGB headed for a similar fate as UWO or Platteville? It’s not, according to Chancellor Michael Alexander.
Tuition freeze and state funding cuts leave campuses to sink or swim
The university is facing a $2.2 million budget deficit this year, which it plans to eradicate by early 2024. Overall, that’s a small fraction of its over $140 million budget. Ten other universities in the UW System are also facing deficits ranging from $600,000 to $15 million.
UWGB’s deficit is not a result in increased spending with declining revenues, Alexander said. UWGB’s revenues have increased, along with its enrollment growth, but not enough to keep pace with expenditures.
UWGB is well-positioned as one of the few universities in the UW system that’s seen a steady increase in enrollment over the last two decades. In general, more students means more tuition dollars.
The university recorded its highest fall enrollment ever this year at 10,388 students.
Despite growth, cuts in state funding leave UWGB more and more reliant on its own revenues. Over the last decade, the university system has seen steep cuts from the state Legislature, and Republicans cut $32 million from the system budget earlier this year.
The state portion of UWGB’s budget is about 17%, according to Alexander.
A decade-long tuition freeze meant that even with inflation, no UW university could increase the cost of tuition. In March, the system’s Board of Regents approved a tuition increase for the 2023-24 school year, averaging about 5% across the system’s campuses.
UWGB focused on realigning for the future, which includes some cuts
That’s not enough to offset the last decade of inflation, so Alexander is focused on “future-proofing” the university.
“What we are doing, for sure, is being proactive and making the necessary changes we have to make sure that this university thrives way beyond our time,” he said.
To Alexander, that means being creative and leveraging the perks of being the region’s main university. UWGB is working to grow its continuing education and certifications for professionals as well as dual enrollment for high school students. It also plans to tap into nontraditional students to supplement its revenues.
The university is looking for what it sees as strategic investments such as the Phoenix Innovation Park, a collaborative research hub that has the goal of doubling UWGB’s enrollment.
Preparing for the future also means making reductions.
In-person library services at the Manitowoc and Marinette campuses will stop at the end of the calendar year, and the Sheboygan campus’ library services will significantly decrease their hours in the spring semester.
The university plans to move library research and support services online for those campuses and repurpose the library spaces by spring.
University administrators who make more than $100,000 will take a furlough this year, saving $141,602, and UWGB is cutting one-time spending by $3.9 million across all areas of the school. Staff and faculty travel is also being restricted to what’s deemed essential.
UWGB is planning to cut six majors and minors from the degree programs it offers, as well.
Alexander says he doesn’t care how much money cutting majors will save
The university is considering cutting majors in economics, environmental policy and theater and dance. It’s also looking to discontinue minors in international environmental studies, geography and physics.
“There are a variety of reasons that these majors and minors are being considered, including enrollment and market demand trends, student outcomes, staffing and workload, and budgetary impact, to name a few,” Kate Burns, the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, wrote in an email to faculty and staff on Nov. 7.
The potential loss of the degrees, particularly the theater and dance program, is sad, Jon Shelton said. He’s a UWGB professor and president of the staff and faculty union, UWGB United.
“Students are deeply concerned, and I’m deeply concerned about the future identity of our university,” Shelton said.
A change.org petition started by students to save the theater and dance program has almost 2,000 signees. Shelton hopes that university administration will work with faculty on a way forward, he said.
Alexander said he doesn’t care what the cost savings will be on eliminating these degree paths.
“Because I think what we’re doing is the right thing,” he said.
Instead of offering courses in theater or economics to one major, the university is reallocating faculty expertise across the student body.
“It is my goal that more students at UW-Green Bay than ever before will participate in theater, just not through a major,” he said. “Because that has an enormous economic cost to the university.”
Alexander said no faculty would be laid off because of program cuts and that courses in those areas would still be offered as elected or general education credits.
Faculty and staff are worried, have low morale
Morale among faculty and staff is as bad as ever, according to Shelton.
Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers excluded the 41,000 employees who work for the UW system from a two-year 6% state worker pay raise. UWGB employs about 900 people, according to 2022 employment data.
“Everybody has been stressed, overworked, underpaid. Now we don’t even get this salary increase that was budgeted for us,” Shelton said.
The bipartisan Joint Committee on Employee Relations, which was responsible for approving the plan, is co-led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. He previously said he wouldn’t approve raises for UW employees until all campuses eliminate their diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Shelton called the move “cruel,” since university faculty and staff, like custodians and administrative assistants, had nothing to do with the decision to invest in those programs.