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An open letter from CALS Interim Dean William Tracy: Supporting our future

As a new year begins and my time as interim dean comes to a close, I have our future students on my mind.

Today one of our core values is at stake – something that should concern all of us who are committed to the future of our college, UW–Madison and Wisconsin. I am talking about declining state support for postsecondary education and its devastating effect on our young people and their opportunities.

Undergraduate education at UW–Madison is paid for by a combination of
general program revenue (GPR) – derived from state taxes – and
tuition, paid by students and families. In 2001, GPR funding for UW–
Madison was $370 million and tuition revenue was $277 million. Ten
years later, GPR has fallen to just $279 million, while tuition
revenue increased to $400 million (all figures adjusted to 2010
dollars). As a result tuition increased from $ 5,044 per year in 2001
(2010 dollars) to $8,987 in 2010. (These numbers do not include the
$47.5 million cut imposed in the 2011 budget.) The state also gives UW
money for special purposes, but these funds cannot be used directly in
providing undergraduate education.

When the state fails to support the university, the university gets
the needed revenue by charging students and their families more. This
is a pretty straightforward relationship, but I am not sure that the
implications are always clear. When the state cuts the budget and
tuition increases, fewer students from middle-class and financially
pressed families can afford to attend UW–Madison.

Here at CALS, we are especially aware of the effects on Wisconsin’s
rural families. Rural per capita income is 20 percent less than in
metropolitan areas, and 40 percent of CALS students demonstrate
significant financial need. What is the future for CALS if a greater
proportion of kids interested in careers in agriculture and natural
resources cannot afford to come to Madison? Indeed, what is the future
of Wisconsin’s rural communities?

We also can’t pretend that the quality of undergraduate education
won’t suffer. Less revenue means fewer degree programs, especially in
production agriculture, and fewer courses dedicated to agriculture.
The time it takes to finish a degree will lengthen. And it will be
harder for people with moderate incomes to afford to come here.

Supporting our agricultural communities means supporting public higher
education in Wisconsin. The UW System is the provider of affordable,
accessible opportunities to earn bachelor’s degrees, and we at CALS
are the provider of the specialized knowledge needed to excel in
careers in agriculture, natural resources and the life sciences. When
state cuts make it harder for rural kids to attend CALS, the economic
vitality of our rural communities is diminished.

How we fund a college education at UW is up to the people of Wisconsin
– and in any policy debate it’s important to have all facts on the
table. My hope is that, as we move forward, undergraduate education
gets the attention and resources that our young people and our state
deserve.

Thanks to all of you for your support of our college.

On Wisconsin.

Contact William Tracy at wftracy@cals.wisc.edu.