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Declines in Spending on Public Higher Education in Wisconsin: An Analysis of the University of Wisconsin System Budget

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The University of Wisconsin System is the main provider of public higher education in Wisconsin and aims to educate and train Wisconsin students. In addition to their focus on instruction, UW System institutions also perform research and engage in public service activities that benefit all Wisconsin citizens. Recognizing the role of public higher education as beneficial to the economic growth of the state, the Governor's budget instructions for 2007-2009 allowed the UW System, unlike other state agencies, to submit requests for increased state general purpose revenue for activities related to economic development.

Though a significant portion of the UW System's budget comes from the state--paralleling the pattern found in other states--in recent years, the UW System has received a relatively smaller percentage of its funding from the state and a relatively greater percentage from other sources. Adjusting for inflation, state appropriations to the UW System have actually declined since 2000. If the recent trend continues, state support will decline in the future.

As the legislature determines future funding levels for the UW System, state policymakers should be cognizant of this funding history. They should examine the relative contribution of different revenue sources, not just the system's total budget, and should be sure to accurately gauge the purchasing power of the system by examining funding in both nominal and inflation-adjusted dollars. Failing to do so presents an inaccurate picture of the fiscal standing of the UW System and could lead to misinformed policy decisions.