Over the past six months, the University of Wisconsin System’s colleges and universities have attempted to mitigate cuts to public funding, tuition freezes, and decreased enrollment by restructuring campuses through consolidation, elimination of majors, and free tuition programs.
In November 2017, the UW-System Board of Regents approved the restructuring of the colleges and universities, effective July 1, 2018. Under this plan, two-year colleges join the closest comprehensive, 4-year university and combine services that include academic support and majors. Consolidation will affect budgets, governance, and financial status. Some see this merger as a strike against shared governance while others feel it is the right move to cut costs and raise graduation numbers.
In February 2018, UW-Madison, the flagship – and wealthiest – university in the UW-System announced a free 4-year tuition program for students whose families earn $56,000 or less a year. Funding for this program will come from private gifts and institutional resources but not tax dollars. This program is expected to boost enrollments at Madison of those students who would not normally afford attendance at the most expensive university in the system without additional support, although this program does not include living expenses and books. It is worth note that due to the decline in public funding at the other UW colleges and universities, a program such as this would not be fundable, because those institutions, under current belt-tightening measures, may not have private benefactors or unallocated institutional resources. This plan may boost enrollments at Madison; however, it may also steer students away from the other less expensive 4-year universities and decrease enrollments there.
In March 2018, it was announced that UW-Stevens Point proposes to cut 13 programs, mostly in the humanities and social sciences. This move follows a similar announcement about cuts to the humanities and social sciences at UW-Superior in fall 2017. It is feared that if these proposals are enacted, both universities will likely lay off tenured faculty in those majors. Faculty at both universities indicate they were not consulted about which programs to cut or suspend, a principle in the shared governance process. The news release from UW-Stevens Point specifies that resources are shifting “from programs with lower enrollments” to add or expand “16 programs in areas with high-demand career paths as a way to maintain and increase enrollment.” These are programs that are felt to “demonstrate value and demand in the region” and include chemical engineering, finance, graphic design, marketing, aquaponics, environmental engineering, and others. Some feel this move will create an urban/rural divide in the state.
Implications to English language arts/NCTE
The consolidation of the UW colleges and universities is intended to align general education curriculum across English departments, which would allow for a smoother path into the 4-year colleges for students who start in the 2-year schools. This move may boost enrollments in English, because it may eliminate the financial burden of retaking courses at the 4-year schools that did not transfer into majors. However, if the universities continue to cut or suspend majors in the humanities, such as English, departments across the colleges and universities will become departments that provide general education courses in service to other majors with course content that may be dictated by those majors. This proposal will likely make having tenure-line faculty with Ph.D.’s in English content irrelevant, because the courses will be offered at a general education level – a level already frequently taught by graduate students in English or part-time faculty with master’s degrees. Without an English major, the process to educate future English professors will not be needed. Moreover, this proposal would affect a university’s ability to offer certification in English education, because the departments would not have the faculty to teach the upper level courses needed to be a highly qualified middle or secondary English teacher.