UWO’s enrollment, revenue down; expenses up

Jack Tierney, Editor in Chief

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UW Oshkosh will likely receive up to about $1.1 million in additional funding over the next two years after the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee allocated $54 million to the UW System last week, UWO’s Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs John Koker predicted.

Koker, who is the chief academic officer and has responsibility over the university’s academic and budgetary affairs, said nearly $500,000 of that amount will pay for a 2% faculty pay increase effective Jan. 1 under the approved UW System 2017-19 pay plan. The remaining money will be split between different units after an auditing system determines the amount that UWO will receive.

Units are academic affairs, administrative tuition and finance, student affairs and university advancement, Koker said.

“Don’t get me wrong, giving faculty and staff raises is a good thing,” Koker said. “But this campus has to figure out how to spend that money on something else.”

Koker said the university Budget Committee is not sure how it is going to spend the remaining state allocation.

State money funds part of the university’s general-purpose revenue that was off balance by $9.5 million in 2018. Tuition money is another key revenue source for the university, but student enrollment, which coincides with student tuition money, has been down since 2014.

That meant cuts to academic department funding the previous two semesters, which consequently increased faculty workloads.

Teaching expectations for a faculty member at Wisconsin comprehensive universities, which provides students both undergraduate and master’s degree programs, are between 18 and 24 credits a year.

“Some faculty spend more time in the classroom while others are more focused on research, which brings millions of dollars to our state’s economy each year,” the UW System website reads.

Research is part of what makes UWO a comprehensive university and employers tend to value degrees from research universities because they teach fundamental life skills such as critical thinking.

Currently, faculty members in UWO’s College of Letters and Science, the university’s largest college, are teaching 21 credits per year.

Faculty are not eligible to reassign part of their credits for earned research time because they are needed in the classroom, Koker said.

In addition, class sizes at the introductory levels have increased, while some of the one-year contract professors who were cut as a result of 2018-19 budgetary decisions have been replaced by full-time faculty members.

Previously, COLS allowed faculty to reassign six of their credits in the classroom for research time in the field, but that program no longer exists. Koker said they hope to get back to the point where faculty can reassign some of their time to research.

Koker said UWO currently has more expenses than revenue. On top of that, this is the seventh year of a tuition freeze and student enrollment is less than what Koker said the university budgeted for. The faculty pay increase contributes to a significant loss in their general-purpose revenue, he said, as state money will pay for 70% of the faculty pay increase and the university must pay for the remaining 30%.

Academic affairs, the largest receiver of university dollars, includes the colleges, library, grants office, academic advising, center for academic resources, student support area, counseling center and advising.

United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh, a union formed in 2017, questioned the faculty and department cuts that were made and said their implications could add risk to the UWO student experience.

UW System numbers show that UWO had the highest percentage of administrative positions hired and the largest percentage of faculty cuts made across the UW System from 2014-17.

“It seems to me to be a case of misguided priorities,” United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh President Jim Feldman said.

“Our leaders are unwilling to hold the line on increasing administrative positions, while at the same time making it more difficult for faculty to help deliver on the core mission of the university — the education of students.”

Koker said those numbers are questionable and that the university is looking into the reasons why they show what they do.

UW System numbers show UWO student enrollment at 12,903 in 2018, down from the peak enrollment at 13,312 in 2014. They also show 348 faculty members in 2018, up from 308 the year before. Feldman and Koker both said those numbers could be a mark of the access campuses that UWO merged with in 2018.

Between 2014 and 2017, the number of administrators at UWO went from 70 to 91, a 30% increase. In 2018, the number of administrators rose again to 103, up 47% since 2014. Koker also said that raise can be because of the merger.

Koker said students should not worry about the budget situation that has lowered the morale of some faculty members.

“As long as I’m in this role, it’s my goal to protect the academic mission of this institution in any way possible,” he said.