wisconsin capitol
Column
May 15, 2015

Higher Ed Cost Shift Sabotaging State’s Growth

Scott Walker and the Republican Majority Enacted the Largest Cuts to Public Education in State History

Declining financial support for higher education by the state of Wisconsin has shifted costs onto consumers, increased student loan debt and decreased the affordability of higher education, according to a joint report by One Wisconsin Institute and Demos. The confluence of these factors is endangering the quality of our state institutions of higher learning, threatening the state’s economic competitiveness and the future of its young people.

The report, “Wisconsin’s Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine the State’s Future Middle Class,” is available online.

Specifically, we found:

  • Tuition at University of Wisconsin schools has been rising far more rapidly than family incomes in Wisconsin, meaning tuition is taking an increasingly large bite out of family budgets.
  • Tuition revenue in 2012 eclipsed state funding as the largest source of revenue for the UW System, but total expenditures on instruction, student services, and academic/institutional support have declined slightly over the past decade.
  • Institutional grant aid per student plummeted after the 2012 cuts to state funding, more than offsetting the slight increase in state grant aid per student. Federal Pell grants have risen substantially, but, as the rise in tuition revenue shows, not enough to offset increasing costs to students.
  • The economic consequences of the higher education cost shift are dire — reduced consumer spending on major purchase like homes and autos, and billions in lost wealth for student loan borrowers.

In the midst of the graduation season, we must acknowledge that Wisconsin students and their families are doing the right thing — they’re working hard to get education and they’ve taken on the personal responsibility to pay for it.

But the decisions being made by state government are making their education less and less affordable. And this diminishing affordability of higher education in Wisconsin is eroding one of the last secure pathways into the state’s middle class. The growth of our debt-for-diploma system is not only constraining the financial futures of Wisconsin’s young people, but sabotaging the state’s economic growth.

Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the state Legislature have enacted the largest cuts to public education, including the University of Wisconsin and the state technical college system, in state history. In addition UW students and their families were hit with a double-digit tuition increase in the 2011 state budget along with stagnant levels of state financial aid. In fact, state student financial aid programs were so underfunded that over 40,000 eligible students were denied assistance in the 2013-14 school year.

The 2015 state budget introduced by Walker and currently under consideration by the state Legislature calls for yet another large cut to state support for the UW and no additional resources for financial aid programs to help more eligible students. Already the UW System has approved tuition increases on out-of-state and graduate students, and multiple campuses have announced plans for staff layoffs and cutbacks in course offerings.

The data show how state de-investment in higher education not only hurts Wisconsin families by making higher education less affordable, but the great cost shift is exploding student loan debt and dragging down our economy. If we’re going to move our state forward, we need to choose a different path by recommitting to public education as a public good and reducing student debt.

# # #

Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now and One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director since 2007, has served as a senior communications director and research strategist for numerous statewide campaigns and elected officials.