Predictive Analytics Request Is Included in University of Wisconsin System Budget Proposal

Predictive analytics would help the system overhaul its advising.

by Karen Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / August 16, 2016 0
Accessible courses are nice to have, but not all higher education leaders do what it takes to provide them. Shutterstock.com

(TNS) — The University of Wisconsin System's 2017-'19 biennial budget request hits on all the major themes for meeting the state's workforce needs and helping more first-generation students earn a college degree, but it offers few details about how an additional $42.5 million requested from the state would be spent.

"Some of the budget details will come into focus after the request moves forward," UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said Monday, after the UW System posted its full biennial budget request in advance of a Board of Regents meeting Thursday in Madison.

The UW System is hoping the time is right to advance several new initiatives because it isn't seeking cost-to-continue increases for utility bills, employee compensation and fringe benefits, which have averaged $88 million in the past six biennia. The UW System had 1,093 fewer state-funded positions in April than a year earlier, and utility bills have been going down.

Budget documents released Monday break down the request for $42.5 million in new state funds over the next two years into four broad initiatives: $26.1 million for "the educational pipeline," $6 million to improve "the university experience," $6.4 million for "business and community mobilization" and $4 million for "operational excellence."

The UW System is proposing a $6.257 billion operating budget for 2016-'17, including $791.9 million in state funding and $1.537 billion in tuition revenue to be put directly into educating students.

The UW System cited a 2016 report on the post-recession economy that said nearly all jobs created in the recovery, 11.5 million out of 11.6 million, went to workers with at least some postsecondary education. It further noted that, according to a recent Wisconsin Technology Council report, 62% of all jobs will require a postsecondary education by the time today's kindergarten class enters the workforce.

"Based on the changing workforce and areas of economic growth, unless the state can increase the number of returning adults and first generation students who receive higher education degrees and are connected to businesses in areas of state need, the economy will be unable to grow," the UW System budget document says.

The "educational pipeline" initiative would seek in the second year of the biennium to expand the number of college-level courses offered by UW institutions to high school students for dual credit, reduce the cost for those students, and provide professional development to K-12 teachers so they are qualified to teach college-level courses.

It also would retool academic, career and financial advising. Using predictive analytics, the UW System would aim to reach out to struggling students before they reach a point of dropping out, and to improve overall student success while reducing the time it takes to earn a degree.

In addition, the UW System wants to pilot cutting-edge approaches to developmental education so underprepared students can immediately enter credit-bearing courses, rather than spend time and money on remedial coursework to get up to speed. About 60% of students who graduate from high school need substantial developmental education in college, according to a recent National Governor's Association report.

Making transfer between institutions across the state more seamless, and improving affordability for adults and other nontraditional students working toward a UW degree or certificate, also are part of the "educational pipeline" initiative.

One component of the "educational pipeline" initiative -- meeting Wisconsin's workforce needs -- seeks to give UW institutions "agility and flexibility to identify the highest priorities and target their efforts and resources to address those challenges." No details about what that means are provided in the budget documents.

While Gov. Scott Walker's July budget letter to state agency heads directed them to assume no new funding above their adjusted base in the next biennium, UW System leaders have been talking with the governor's staff about "an additional investment for the purpose of addressing the workforce and educational needs of the state," according to the UW System's budget documents.

Walker also has said he would consider more support for the UW System in the form of performance-based funding based on such things as number of graduates and "how many graduates actually find work."

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