Tuesday, February 12, 2019

UW Oshkosh is shifting funds from dorms to academics to address financial woes; graduate tuition to rise

Photo by Miles Maguire

Students pay up to $3,380 per semester to live in the Horizon Village residence hall at UW Oshkosh. 
By Miles Maguire

To help fill a budget hole, UW Oshkosh plans to shift $5 million from its residence halls into student academic services.

The surplus in the school’s Department of Residence Life “was generated by unanticipated salary savings, delay and/or postponement of building and maintenance projects, and increased revenues from additional room occupancy and conference center activities,” according to a request that was approved by the Board of Regents last week.

The money will be spent on student services that have traditionally been funded by tuition and legislative appropriations. These activities include “admissions, career planning and placement, financial aid administration, counseling center and the registrar’s office,” the transfer request document shows.

UW Oshkosh students currently pay slightly more for room and board than for tuition, according to the school’s website. During the current academic year Wisconsin residents can expect to pay $4,046 for room and board each semester, compared to just $3,811 for tuition.

“We are pleased our plan for responsible fiscal transition continues to have support of the Board of Regents and the UW System,” said Chancellor Andrew Leavitt. “This student supported plan is critical to our strategy to support programs and students on campus."

“While the situation is obviously not ideal, we recognize the serious circumstances the university finds itself in and believe that the best course of action is to act in the interests of the university as a whole,” Madeline Hass, president of a campus group called United Students in Residence Halls, said in a written statement to the regents.

USRH consists of all students living in campus dorms and is responsible for providing a student voice on issues related to residence life and university dining, according to its constitution.

“Our understanding is that the university’s reserve funds are effectively exhausted, that the university as a whole is in need of funds to pay for immediate costs for this year and that they are unable to to acquire these funds through other means, such as a loan from the UW System,” Hass wrote.

She said some residence hall projects will be delayed but that “the transfer will not affect the quality of life of resident hall students.” If “unexpected costs” arise, the university has promised “to help to cover said costs,” Hass wrote.

The transfer of funds underscores the seriousness of the financial crisis at UWO. Until 2011 these kinds of shifts were limited by statute, the university said.

While undergraduate tuition has been frozen at Oshkosh and other UW schools for six years, students have still been hit with increased costs for living on campus. In fiscal year 2018, rates went up 4 percent, which was followed by a 1.8 percent boost for the current fiscal year.

The university has been dipping into student funds to cover pay increases for staff and expects to continue doing so. But the room rate increases for the next two years are projected to be only about 0.5 percent, or $30 a year.

“This transfer of funds will not affect future student rates, which would only increase due to other external factors, such as the potential approval of a state pay plan,” Leavitt said in a letter to the regents.

Leavitt is implementing a three-year financial recovery plan, which requires a total of $7.5 million in “bridge funding” this year to deal with a revenue shortfall. On top of the residence hall funds, the university expects to raise $2.5 million from various contractual and fee-for-service activities separate from traditional classroom teaching.

The school’s Resident Life operations are budgeted to take in $16.6 million this year against operating expenses of $10.7 million. But a hefty debt service of payment of $5.9 million will put the department in the red by $72,000, according to university documents. After the transfer Residence Life will have $2 million in its reserve fund.

Separately the regents also approved a modest tuition increase for UW Oshkosh’s graduate programs. The new rates will take effect next year and are expected to bring in $61,184.

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