Saturday, December 27, 2008

Where's the money going?

Hi everyone,

This week's column recounts, essentially, every conversation I've had with Pat Strachota and Glenn Grothman, back when he was still talking to me, for the past 15 years. The state is running a budget deficit and the neocons love to blame "fat in the university" for this, but: 1) I guarantee you we're not seeing any fat here locally, and 2) the yammerers are never able to identify where any of this so-called fat actually is. My best guess: the DOT.

But then, I'm just a country doctor, I don't know nuthin'.

Saturday's column.

Don’t starve the goose. We need the eggs.

The next state budget is coming up and, as always, the remaining neoconservatives in Madison are beginning to eyeball their favorite whipping boy: the University of Wisconsin system. They tore off a lot of flesh in the last budget: even though the UW was only 9 percent of the total budget, it took 38 percent of all the cuts. It was a bloody mess, especially since the UW Colleges are the bottom of the UW System food chain and always take a big hit in any budget cuts – even though we’re demonstrably the best educational deal for the taxpayer. So, I'm always shocked when I hear people complain that there’s fat left in the UW System since here, locally, we aren’t seeing any.

Here’s what I mean: the average faculty member in the UW Colleges earns around $50,000, more than $30k a year behind UWMadison, $15k behind UW-Milwaukee and less than faculty at any other UW campus. How do we compare in cost nationwide? University faculty in Wisconsin, on average, make less (including both salaries and benefits) than do university faculty in Alabama, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Milwaukee Magazine reported another figure that usually surprises people. Instructors at the Wisconsin technical colleges over the last few years earned, on average, about $74,000 a year and at the MATC’s, Milwaukee and Madison area technical colleges, nearly $90,000. So, even relative to the technical colleges, we’re a good deal for the taxpayer who wants to upgrade their education and job opportunities with a BA.

The deal gets better as we go along. UWWC is one of the ways our taxes flow back into Washington County from Madison – in the form of salaries, university spending, and the ripple effects these have on job creation, student spending and attracting a labor pool of college-educated students for local businesses.
In fiscal year 2005-2006, the combined economic impact of university expenditures, payroll and student expenditure results, including direct and economic ripple effects, came to $17.8 million for the county. That’s $17.8 million of our own money we wouldn’t get back without the university.

But wait, there’s more.

The dynamic leadership on campus has made UWWC’s academic and research assets increasingly available to local business through the Washington County Economic Development Corporation. In addition to crunching numbers for local economic planning and development, each year the campus hosts thousands of local residents at events that include everything from workshops on leadership, business training and retirement, to ACT study sessions and exams, to judo competitions and job fairs.

We even save gas. The nursing program with UW-M and the liberal arts degree program with UW-Oshkosh make it possible for Washington County residents to earn their degrees here at home. More recently the new engineering program, run in partnership with UW-Platteville, has been in the news. Not only does the program share costs, saving money while increasing Wisconsin’s stock of engineers, but it’s one of the reasons the Gehl Company cited for moving their R&D center to West Bend. The new construction came in ahead of schedule and under budget. The program begins this spring.

Oh, and one more: UW-Washington County is operating in the black. We pay our own way.

Summing up: the UW System is one of the more cost effective universities in the country, the UW Colleges are the most cost effective branch of UW System and UW-Washington County contributes $17.8 million to the local economy, operates in the black and offers programs local business wants and needs.

That explains why I’m startled whenever I hear that we need to cut the university budget even more. It might well be possible to competitivize some of our health care costs, as John Torinus has done at Serigraph, but I already included benefits in my comparisons above. Relative to most universities nationwide we’re cheaper, we’re better and we cost the taxpayer a lot less.

So, here’s my question: If all that tax money isn’t trickling down to us here at UW Washington County, then where the heck is it going?

I don’t know either, but Rep. Pat Strachota, as demonstrated by her thoughtful and measured column a few weeks ago in these pages, seems dedicated to finding out the answer. I hope she’ll report back to us as the budget process begins.

One difference between Pat and Glenn is that Pat will punch the calculator with her fingers rather than with her ideology.

oh, and a p.s. I'll have to add to next week's column: I do not now, never have, and never will speak as an agent for or on behalf of the University of Wisconsin system or any of its divisions. The truth is I drive our administration as crazy as I possibly can -- from our own local dean up to the Chancellor's office. It's part of my job.


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