Wiley: Access, budget top university’s priority list

November 8, 2006 By Ellen Page

Access is the No. 1 challenge for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Chancellor John D. Wiley told the university’s Faculty Senate on Nov. 6.

“We’re not going to get much bigger than we are today,” Wiley says. “We’re at right about 41,000 students; there was a time when we were up around 44,000, and it was very unpleasant in many ways. The quality of education, in our judgment, definitely was deteriorating; it just wasn’t a good environment for providing an education.”

The question is, where is there room for more access? The answer, says Wiley, is to encourage more students to explore alternatives when starting their college careers, including UW–Madison’s Connections Program or some other transfer program. Connections allows Wisconsin residents to start at two-year college campuses and finish their bachelor’s degrees at UW–Madison, while holding UW–Madison student status from the beginning of their academic careers.

The bottleneck that occurs as many freshman and sophomore students take the same required general-education courses can cause deterioration in the quality of education, said Wiley. So many sections of common courses — such as calculus or psychology or English — have to be offered because they are general requirements, and that puts a strain on the limited number of faculty who teach the courses. By the time students starting taking courses primarily in their major areas, usually in the junior year, the demand is not as high, lessening the strain on department resources.

“In case you’re worried that starting somewhere else and transferring in is somehow an inferior path to UW–Madison and a Madison degree — all the research says otherwise,” Wiley told the senate. “Students who will be accepted as transfer students quickly become indistinguishable from the ones who started out here as freshmen. They do just as well in everything that we would care about.”

The other main issue for the university is the budget, Wiley says. “We have high hopes that things have bottomed out and Wisconsin’s economy is turning around. The governor has said that he believes that the university took more than its fair share of budget cuts in recent biennia, and it’s time that we turn that around. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any realistic hope that any governor or Legislature in the near future will completely restore our funding from the state,” Wiley says.

“We’re in a new era in Wisconsin and in every other state in the country,” he adds. “Public higher education is transitioning to a different funding model — not a private model, but a funding model in which the elements of the budget are no longer funded just on state money and tuition, but rather on a mix of things.”

Currently, the budget includes federal money (the largest portion of the budget), gifts and grants, program revenues (football tickets, art prints, music CDs), tuition and state funding.

“Things that we once assumed must be covered by state funds can no longer be covered by state funds,” Wiley says. “They have to be covered by different mixes of other kinds of funding.”