Large classes sizes among effects of lost state funding

Posted September 14, 2015

The budget cut that’s going to affect the whole UW System is in full swing this semester. UW-River Falls alone is losing $3.31 million in state support starting this fiscal year.

Lawmakers trimmed the cut to the UW-System to $250 million, down from the original $300 million budget cut proposed by Gov. Scott Walker. The cut is for 2015-2017 biennial budget.

With the state not supporting UWRF as much, this has caused various cuts across the campus. Students in lower level classes will notice that there is an increase in class size. General education requirements were trimmed and combined to accommodate for the cut in state funding.

“While students will still experience numerous small classes throughout their academic career at UWRF,” Chancellor Dean Van Galen said in an email, “they are now more likely to be in a larger class, especially for introductory courses such as Biology 101, Communication Studies 116 and 213, Geography 130, and Political Science 114.”

Van Galen also mentioned that the campus wants these courses to be as effective as possible and the faculty who are teaching these courses participated in a workshop on how to best engage students in larger class sizes.

“I think that speaks to the university’s commitment to provide a quality education,” Van Galen said.

Although students will experience larger classes in their introductory courses, the university thoroughly thought out keeping the courses in a students major smaller to get the best possible education.

“When we thought about how we educate as many students as possible with fewer dollars,” said Brenda Irvin, budget and policy analyst, “we all believe when you are in your major, you as a student get the best education in smaller classes.”

The state of Wisconsin does not necessarily designate how the university uses the funding it is provided, but the state does have some restrictions.

“If a student pays a segregated fee,” said Irvin, “the use of that money for that segregated fee cannot be used for anything else.”

Almost 60 percent of the state funding goes to salaries for staff and faculty on campus, and 25 percent go towards fringe benefits. By far the largest fringe benefit on campus is health insurance, because it is the most expensive. Twelve percent of state funding goes to supplies and expense, which covers technology purchases, cleaning supplies and other things that are used on campus. Three percent goes to capital, such as the vehicles that are used on campus and owned by the state.

The current tuition freeze has been extended for another two years and along with the budget, will be reviewed again in 2017.

“Since UWRF has made its budget reductions in this first year,” Van Galen said, “I do not anticipate that our campus will need to make additional cuts next year.”

The Board of Regents approved one-time funding to provide a bridge for campuses while managing the base cut. UW-River Falls received slightly more than $1.4 million. About half of this money will go towards health insurance for the faculty on campus as it is the most expensive, and the rest is still in the works, according to University administrators.

The budget cuts also have affected faculty and staff. There will be no raises, unless promoted, for professors and some staff will either be working fewer months in the year or will be working fewer hours a week.

Overall this budget cut represents a 12.9 percent reduction in state support to UW-River Falls and it has been very challenging to trim out things to provide the best education for the students, administrators said.