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 Richard H. Wells
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Thank you Senator Grothman and Representative Wood for convening this special hearing. I also want to thank the members of the Senate and Assembly who serve on these important committees to review this pressing issue.

The percentage of bachelor degree holders in the state of Wisconsin is only 22.4% while the national average is 26.2%. Worse yet, only 18.8% of Northeast Wisconsin residents hold bachelor degrees. In fact, the percentage of bachelor degree holders in Northeast Wisconsin is lower than that of any state except for one. While the state of Wisconsin ranks 30th in the nation for its low percentage of bachelor degree holders, it ranks 9th in the nation for its high percentage of associate degree holders.

As you well know, workforce, economic, family and community development go hand in hand, and all are fueled by higher education. Many of the region’s large, mature industries, such as paper, metal works, plastics, printing and machinery manufacturing, were built by associate degree holders. As these mature industries adapt and evolve to compete in the New economy, they need a workforce whose strengths are brain power, research and development, and technology. Most new and good paying jobs require four-year degrees. If we don’t turn our wealth of associate degree holders into bachelor degree holders, the New economy won’t thrive. Our region will suffer. We can’t let that happen to our families and communities.

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh cannot turn water into wine, nor did we miraculously grow enrollment by an additional 873 full-time equivalent students while having more than $12 million dollars cut from our last three biennial budgets. It was not a miracle because the citizens of Wisconsin are left paying for the consequences. Briefly, tuition has increased more than 60%, and students are paying more for less.

We can not continue to grow and be cut. Recent budget cuts reduced our resiliency. We are stretched so thin that, without increased funding, we can grow no further. And yet, the region needs UW Oshkosh to grow to meet the critical need for a more highly educated workforce. We have a submitted a six-year “growth” agenda proposal that would improve student retention by 10%. It would increase the number of students of color by 75% and of older adult students by 58%. It would hike the number of degrees awarded by 10% and on-campus enrollment from 11,000 to 12,800 students (12%).

Assuming that the state seeks to address the embarrassingly-low percentage of bachelor degree holders in its northeast region, and that UW Oshkosh exemplifies financial discipline by managing to grow under stress, the question becomes: If TPA were to become law, how would our “growth” agenda be affected?

Based on recent UW System studies, and assuming no tuition offset, the implementation of TPA could result in a 12,513 FTE student reduction system wide. UW Oshkosh’s share of this reduction would be 7% of the total. Consequently, just one TPA Biennial Budget would wipe out the equivalent of those 873 FTE students that it took us six years to add. After three TPA biennial budgets, UW Oshkosh could shrink 27% smaller instead of growing 12% larger as needed.

Generations of Wisconsinites built the UW universities by working hard and by paying taxes. As our elected officials, you and people like me are the stewards of this vital and tremendous common good. It is our responsibility to preserve and protect Wisconsin’s great fortune and to pass it on as our legacy to future generations. Citizens and elected officials together have cared for and defended and supported public higher education in Wisconsin for over a century. The TPA threatens to undo this public good, and it would be a great misfortune to let that happen on our watch. True taxpayer protection means protecting the public goods, such as the UW Universities.

Thank you for your attention.