MARINETTE — A day before addressing the Joint Committee on Finance, University of Wisconsin Colleges and Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen met last week with the EagleHerald editorial team and a reporter to discuss various topics regarding the UW-System.
Sandeen, last Thursday, said she would be speaking Friday at Marinette High School regarding the budget.
“I think it’s really important to state our case about the UW-Colleges,” she said. “Fortunately, we have a really good relationship with Rep. (John) Nygren (R-Marinette) and we meet with him one-one-one a lot because he’s from Marinette. He really understands the UW-Colleges and the special role we play. It’ll be good for the rest of the committee to hear that.”
Sandeen spoke Friday at the budget hearing.
Since the UW-System is both a public institution, as well as state-supported, “The state budget is something we care about deeply — especially on the heels of the current biennium (a specific period of two years) where we experienced a large cut,” she said.
According to Sandeen, during the last budget, administration within the UW-Colleges was cut by 30 percent, as well as 20 percent of the state funding toward the UW-System.
“It was very large for us, but I will say we’ve come out of it on the other side,” she said. “It was very tough going. We have a couple of examples of positive evidence that proves this.”
Sandeen explained the college administered a very comprehensive survey to students in 2016 — the year after the reorganization of staff and faulty — that asked specific questions.
“We, of course, care so much about our students and we’re really happy to see the students feel that they’re getting what they need in terms of student services, financial aid questions, tutoring, etc.,” she said. “Our students are getting the courses they need. We were worried that through enrollment declines, we’ve had to reduce face-to-face courses. They seem happy with the online and distance education alternatives we offer. We really hired the right people in those roles who really care and are able to make it happen.”
Looking at the proposed budget, Sandeen said, it looks to be much better for the UW-System than the last one.
“For one thing, the governor proposed to restore $50 million of that $250 million which was cut,” she said. “Automatically, we’ll get $25 million the first year and another $25 million the second. I wouldn’t call that new money, but it’s a restoration of part of the cut, which is great. He’s (Gov. Scott Walker) also proposed to give the system $42.5 million in additional new money which will be allocated out to the institutions according to performance measures.”
Sandeen explained Walker made it very detailed on how the the additional money is divided up.
“Fortunately, he pulled the UW-Colleges aside and said the regents should develop appropriate metrics for the colleges,” she explained. “This is important because a typical metric for higher education would be six-year bachelor completion rate — well that doesn’t apply to us at all. He recognized that. We’ll still get some money, but we should be able to have a conversation with the UW regents about what we should be measured on.”
One of the most difficult hurdles the UW-System had to face was regionalizing campuses and the loss of 110 employees, Sandeen said.
“The big negative that we can’t reverse is the involuntary layoff notices our wonderful employees received,” she said. “That hurts, those people left and won’t be coming back.”
However, dividing the campuses into regions has worked out very well, Sandeen said.
“It was a big adjustment for all of us because it was very different,” she said.
One of the aspects that changed the most was not having a designated dean on each campus. Now regional deans take care of several campuses.
“The jobs of regional deans is to really go into the different communities and prioritize which groups they’re going to engage with because they can’t do their jobs times four,” she said. “They’ve spent that first year really getting to know the communities. They’ve done a fantastic job and have also done a lot of legislative work — meeting with state and county elected officials.”
Another change was designating campus administrators, like UW-Marinette’s Cindy Bailey.
“She really runs the day-to-day, on-the-ground operations,” Sandeen said. “We have a similar position on each of the campuses.”
Sandeen was also asked about the possibility of purchasing the current hospital and turning it into dorms.
“I haven’t heard much about that,” she said. “I think it would be a stretch. How we’ve handled expanding student housing on some of our other campuses — this is becoming more common practice for universities — is to partner with a private developer that would develop and operate the property for us.”
Typically the developer begins with new construction, “but the potential for renovating is an interesting idea,” she said.
Sandeen said one of the main things that makes the UW-College system, especially on the two-year campuses like Marinette, so successful is the relationships that students build with faculty members.
“Our students have that real close connection with faculty,” she said. “They are comfortable talking with faculty and asking questions, sitting in the front row, coming to class — they know the advantages of showing up and they have tall of those skills that we’ve taught them. They are very successful.”