Government Relations

Testimony on Pending Legislation: Assembly Joint Resolution 77 and Senate Joint Resolution 63

Before Assembly Committee on Ways and Means & Senate Select Committee on Taxpayers Protection Amendment
April 5, 2006
Testimony of Douglas N. Hastad
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Higher education is a business…a very important business! It is an investment in the future, not a cost. It pays a high return to the individual and their state of residence.

Higher education is “the” knowledge-based business. Somewhat simplistically, it is comprised of transmitting knowledge to learners and shaping the critical thinking skills of minds of all ages. It does so by providing opportunity and the requisite learning environments. The end product of a successful experience is an earned baccalaureate and/or advanced degree. These degrees are symbolic of completing an academic program and, most times, provide the credential needed to embark on a professional career. I think we’d all agree that educational attainment (earning a degree) is essential to the vitality of a state’s economy. Economic statistics certainly support this claim.

Until recently, the state was the majority shareholder in Wisconsin public higher education. For example, in 1996 the state contributed 65% of instructional costs at UW-L. Students contributed 35%. Today, students contribute 51% of the costs, the state 49%. This is disappointing.

The proposed Taxpayer Protection Amendment will result in even less taxpayer support for public higher education. Please understand that such action will result in long-term consequences for the state of Wisconsin.

First, there is the “less will mean less” scenario. Cutbacks in state resources for UW System institutions will mean restricting access, thus reducing the opportunity to produce more degree holders for the state. Aspiring high school students will seek other alternatives to degree attainment. In all likelihood, this will occur outside the state’s borders.

Second, there is the “less will mean more” scenario. Simply put, if institutions wish to maintain current enrollment—and the number of degree holders for the state—revenue must be generated to offset the costs associated with such a decision. The only source for this funding is increasing tuition. This means that students will be asked to pay for an even greater share of what is called public higher education.

During the past several biennial budgets UW-L has opted for reducing its enrollment to better provide a quality educational experience for its students. Clearly this was the right decision. We now find ourselves in an interesting dilemma. Applications are up, the quality of the student body is at an all-time high, retention rates are among the highest in the Upper Midwest, and graduation rates are well above what is expected for a public comprehensive university. Because of unique and high-demand program array, exceptional retention, and geographic location, UW-L is well-positioned to grow its student body by attracting prospects who might previously have chosen to go elsewhere. This would be good for Wisconsin. Unfortunately, should the Taxpayer Protection Amendment pass we will be forced to reduce access and/or increase tuition. More students would be denied admission and/or priced out of the market.

Neither of these scenarios is appealing for UW-L. Neither is good for Wisconsin. Recognize that your vote for the Taxpayer Protection Amendment is support for either decreased access to UW System institutions and/or increased tuition for students and their parents.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony.

Quick Facts About UW-L

• The history of interest in attending UW-L has continued to increase. Among first-year students, there were 6256 applications for Fall 2005 and 6655 applications for Fall 2006 (as of 4/1/06).

• Exemplary retention and graduation rates:

- In each of the past 5 years, UW-L has had the highest second-year retention rate among the UW Comprehensive universities.

- UW-L’s graduation rate has risen from 56.01% eight years ago to 66.9% in the most recent available statistics (2002), which was first among comprehensives and second only to UW-Madison.

• For next year’s UW-L freshman class, the number of denials is up 36% (as of 4/1/06) compared with 2005.

• The loss of positions at UW-L over the last two biennia (03-07) has been the equivalent of 47 FTE.

• The geographic proximity to Minnesota and access to the Minnesota System of State Universities makes it a viable alternative for Wisconsin residents who won’t get into UW System institutions.

• Further reductions in funding via the Taxpayer Protection Amendment (TPA) will mean a reduction of access for Wisconsin residents to UW-L.