MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Interim University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson said Tuesday that he’ll ask Gov. Tony Evers to include a nearly $100 million boost for the system in the next state budget and give him permission to borrow up to $1 billion as the coronavirus pandemic bleeds revenue from campuses.
A UW news release outlining the request makes no mention of the virus. The closest it comes is a sentence with Thompson acknowledging “unprecedented challenges.” Instead, the release lists a number of new initiatives Thompson wants to use the money to launch.
Chief among them is the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a pledge to pay up to four years’ worth of tuition and fees at any regional campus for incoming state resident freshmen and transfer students whose families make $60,000 or less. The initiative is modeled after UW-Madison’s Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which covers tuition for resident freshmen and transfer students at the state’s flagship university.
The money also would go toward expanding and enhancing online courses, forgiving teachers’ student loans, providing stipends for student teachers, adding 20 county-based agriculture positions in the Division of Extension at UW-Madison, and expanding student mental health services.
Thompson also plans to ask Evers to include permission in the budget to borrow between $500 million and $1 billion in the current fiscal year to cushion pandemic-related losses, according to a budget summary prepared for regents.
On top of that, Thompson wants $1.2 billion in the state capital budget for renovations across the system and an additional $4.5 million for the Wisconsin Grant-UW, the state’s largest financial aid program for system students. The program was short nearly $2.3 million in 2019-20, according to the summary.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to approve Thompson’s plan on Thursday. The request next would go to Evers for consideration as his administration crafts the 2021-23 executive budget.
The request is an ambitious one as the pandemic continues to crimp state revenue. Evers’ administration has projected a $2 billion shortfall in the 2021-23 budget. Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
UW has been struggling since Republicans froze tuition rates for in-state undergraduate students in 2013 and things have only gotten more dire since campuses closed in March as the pandemic took hold.
System schools plan to reopen this fall with at least some in-person classes, but that may not be enough to get them back into the black; UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said last week that her school expects to lose around $150 million this fall even if the full student body returns.
The system has already cut $49 million as part of a round of reductions that Evers ordered and directed employees to take furloughs. Earlier this month Thompson announced an additional $10 million in cuts. He plans to achieve those savings by laying off several dozen system administration employees, limiting out-of-state travel and supply purchases and eliminating several memberships and sponsorships.
About half of the $10 million saved would go toward a new scholarship for under-represented and under-served students beginning in the fall 2021 semester.
Evers has ordered a $250 million cut across state agencies for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. UW officials estimate the system’s share of that cut will be $69 million.