WIPPS 2015 Spring News: Director’s message-Future of Higher Ed at Stake

Eric GiordanoWIPPS and several partners recently organized two regional public conversations (Fox Valley and central Wisconsin) on “The Future of Public Higher Education in Wisconsin” and we plan to hold more around the state. This might seem like a natural place to make a stand. As a unit of the UW Colleges and UW Extension, like the rest of the UW System, you might assume we have something to lose. We do not. Long before Governor Walker’s budget proposal, WIPPS staff was informed that we would lose all direct public funding beginning FY 2016, a casualty of a long trend of cuts to higher

This is important only in the sense that our effort to hold conversations about the future of public higher education will have no direct benefit to our organization. Our funding fate is sealed. But our public mission continues. Whether or not you agree that the UW System can absorb proposed cuts, we believe that the public’s voice needs to be heard on this issue. We also agree with the consistent editorial page drumbeat: Absent greater public conversation, budget cuts are not an effective way
to make policy.

Given current fiscal realities, cuts to higher education may be necessary. But cuts without a clear and well-thought strategy are short-sighted. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, among others, recommended the establishment of a blue-ribbon panel charged with determining long-term educational needs, goals and strategies for our state. We at WIPPS believe that this issue also requires public input-especially from the people most affected – local businesses, civic and educational leaders, and families with current and future students. They deserve an opportunity to weigh in.

For example, two-year UW Colleges and the communities they serve are already reeling from years of cuts. Their access-to-completion mission for underserved students could be significantly affected. Is this a tradeoff we wish to accept? Would public authority over resource management lead to greater efficiencies? Would it decrease accountability to the public? We don’t really know the answers to these and many other questions which is precisely why time and space for public
reflection is so critical.

While policy deadlines create pressure to balance the next biennial budget, WIPPS is committed to continuing the public conversation. We hope you will join us in hosting, organizing or attending an event in your area soon. The public voice deserves to be heard.

Our promise is to share the results with our elected officials, the media and you.