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University president: All options on the table amid funding debate

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(The Center Square) – The president of the University of Wisconsin is not ruling out closing more two-year campuses as he continues to debate the university’s budget with state lawmakers.

President Jay Rothman testified before the Senate Committee on College and Universities on Monday, and hinted that UW-Platteville’s Richland County campus may not be the only one to close or see cuts.

“I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the UW System takes a hard look at our expenses, and ensuring that we remain responsible and good stewards of both taxpayers’ and tuition dollars, “ Rothman told lawmakers. “While all options are on the table, from my past experience in the private sector I know that no organization can cut its way to a better future.”

Rothman continues to push for an 8% budget increase for the UW System in the new state budget. That would take the university’s $6.8 billion budget for the current year to more than $7.3 billion next year.

Rothman’s 8% request is on top of a 4% tuition increase that UW regents approved earlier this year.

“We need to recognize and support the notion that you cannot have the kind of healthy [Wisconsin] economy that we all want without a strong university system,” Rothman added. “If we are going to have a vibrant Wisconsin, we need to invest in the UW System.”

Rothman ordered the Richland County campus closed last year, and says the school is “transitioning” away from in-person degrees.

There were just 64 students enrolled at the campus last fall, and there were 25 university employees there.

Rothman said the Richland campus was one of several that were running a deficit, prompting him to order a campus-by-campus audit.

“Additionally I have directed our chancellors, who are responsible for our branch campuses, to provide an assessment of the long term viability of each of those campuses, and propose steps to realign our mission at each location to the extent necessary so that we can achieve viability at each of those campuses.”

The UW System has 12 four-year campuses, with the biggest being UW-Madison, along with 13 two-year campuses.

The UW says enrollment was down at almost every campus last year. UW-Madison, UW-Superior, and UW-Green Bay, however, all added students last fall.

Those enrollment numbers came before Rothman announced in May that almost every UW campus will be running a deficit by the end of next year.

“We are encouraging greater collaboration among our universities,” Rothman added. “And we have included in the UW strategic plan that all of our universities eliminate their structural deficits by 2028.”

Still, Rothman said the University of Wisconsin will need more money from the state.

Lawmakers have not yet said what they will do about Rothman’s request. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee postponed a vote on the UW’s budget last week, and has not set a date for a new vote.

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