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By: Rose Hogmire 

“At what point do we say ‘ouch’?” This was the question posed by University of Wisconsin Regent Jose F. Vasquez this summer before voting on a $6 billion budget incorporated millions of dollars in cuts from the Legislature.

As administrators, faculty and students at UW System campuses across the state prepare for the dramatic cutback of public funding, Ripon College administrators and faculty are conflicted at the chance of capitalizing off of UW’s misfortune.

“It’s certainly a regular topic of conversation among faculty and it comes up in our admissions question as well,” says Dean of Faculty Ed Wingenbach. “They’re certainly different conversations. The conversation amongst faculty is one that is kind of a solidarity question; we all believe in higher education. It’s horrifying to see what is one of the best public systems in the country gutted.”

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the bill includes a $250 million overall cut to the UW system and removes tenure from the state charter as a part of Governor Walker’s plan to make the public institution healthier with more self-autonomy.

“I would ask anyone to interrogate the logic behind that,” remarks Dean Wingenbach on Governor Walker’s plan. “What other companies, business, or industries can you say, ‘Well, you’ll be healthier when we slash a big chunk of your already tight budget and that’s going to make you better off?”

While Governor Walker’s bill concerns faculty members on the future of higher education, Ripon will likely experience some benefit by having a comparative advantage and increasing enrollment.

“In the long term, it should help us with our enrollments dramatically. That’s the cynical truth of it,” explains Dean Wingenbach. “One of the things that I think will help our admissions in the long-run will be that as these cuts make the gap in quality and the gap in success rates more evident to everybody in a more simple way. The value proposition of attending Ripon College becomes easier to communicate.”

Making sure potential Ripon students who have also applied to UW System schools understand how the budget cuts will affect their college experience is critical.

“When we find out the prospective students are looking at the UW System, we never attack another school, but we do point out key questions for them to think through and to ask the UW System or the Illinois System where they stand on those particular issues, ” says Vice President for Enrollment Jennifer Machacek.

Increased enrollment is an enticing prospect for Ripon College faculty members and administrators, but to do so amid a national trend of decreased public funding for higher education creates some dissonance.

“We already know that [UW] has a hard time getting their students through in four years, this is just going to add to that. That means you’re going to be in school longer, you’re going to be paying more tuition, but also remember you’re going to have a loss of income because you’re not out in the workforce,” says Machacek.

“One of the things I’m most concerned about is the question of access, particularly for low-income first generation students,” adds Dean Wingenbach. “We tend to think of higher education as the mechanism for intergenerational mobility and that’s, for me, the big moral hazard here.”

“The real injustice of the UW cuts is that it undermines the ability of students to get the expertise and skills that they need to make their lives better in ways that allow the democratic promise to be realized in a way it often is not.”