Walker Wants to Bring Financial Reform to Wisc. Higher Ed

Governor Scott Walker wants to make schools that comprise the Wisconsin public university system more accountable. In service of this goal, during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, he proposed changing the way the higher education in the state is funded. How much money each school receives, he said, should be determined not only by its size but also by how well its students perform and their chances of graduating with a college degree — and doing so on time.

Walker said that his proposal would ensure that state money is spent more wisely, and mainly going to schools that have a proven record of doing right by their students as demonstrated by achievement data and graduation rates.

He said that he understood that his proposal was going against the conventional wisdom that better academic outcomes come from investing an ever larger portion of the budget in the education system. According to Walker, that is not the case; the answer, he says, is to spend the money more efficiently making sure only those institutions who make wise use of funds go on to receive more.

Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the governor is currently consulting with the University of Wisconsin system, the Wisconsin Technical College System and WAICU in formulating a proposal for higher education. He said the governor’s announcement of performance funding is currently just a “general concept.”

“Specific details are being developed with the expectation that a proposal will be included in the biennial budget proposal, which the governor will unveil in February 2013,” Wegenke said in an email.

According to Walker, at the moment the public university system in Wisconsin is failing because it is not producing an adequate number of graduates in the professional fields most needed by the state’s economy. Specifically, he refers to a “skills gap” that exists in the fields of health care, information industries and manufacturing. A recent study from The Next Generation Wisconsin showed that in manufacturing alone, 37% of the companies reported that they had trouble recruiting people with the training to take over leadership positions within the company.

In a 2012 report prepared for the governor, Tim Sullivan, a special consultant for business and work force development for the state of Wisconsin, recommended performance-based funding in publicly funded schools and encouraged students to seek admission at WTCS so they might fill vacant jobs in the skills gap.

The students themselves, however, don’t seem to think that “encouraging” them to enter certain professions based on the state’s economic needs would be very productive. Androo Hinkfuss, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that students should instead be encouraged to take up majors that best suited their unique aspirations and skills.

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