Office of Planning and Budgeting

The Wisconsin Education Approval Board, which oversees all for-profit colleges located in the state and any online-learning programs offered to its residents, may require that those institutions achieve specific performance standards in order to operate within Wisconsin. Specifically, that board is proposing to require that at least 60 percent of a college’s students complete their studies within a certain time-frame and at least 60 percent of its graduates have jobs.  Public universities and private nonprofit colleges are not under the board’s jurisdiction and would therefore be exempt from the requirements.

The board already collects and publishes data on its institutions. According to those reports, average completion rates fell from 82 to 59 percent over the last six years and the percentage of graduates who were employed during a given year dropped from 44 to 22 percent (in the same time frame).

The Chronicle reports that the board is basing its standards on what they believe “Wisconsin consumers would find ethical, responsible, and acceptable for institutions choosing to enroll them.” However, for-profit colleges have already submitted letters to the board arguing that the proposed standards are “arbitrary and should not be broadly applied to a diverse set of programs, which often enroll underserved populations.”

While the federal government’s “gainful employment” rule is similar to Wisconsin’s proposal, it is unusual to see a state attempt this type of regulatory system. Some states have increased their requirements for online and for-profit institutions—but Wisconsin’s proposal is especially aggressive. For-profits that wish to operate in Washington must receive authorization from the Washington Student Achievement Council, which considers institutions; “financial stability, business practices, academic programs, and faculty qualifications”—but does not yet hold them to specific graduation or employment standards.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin’s board voted unanimously to postpone a final decision until a team made of board members, representatives from colleges and universities, and State legislators can review the proposal more thoroughly.  The team is scheduled to make recommendations to the board in June of 2013.

Staff from OPB in partnership with staff from Regional and Community Relations are participating in a community-wide effort known as the University District Livability Partnership (UDLP) – a four-year strategic initiative to encourage investment for a vibrant, walkable University District Community. The UDLP involves University District residents, business, social service providers, congregations, the Greater University Chamber of Commerce, University of Washington and City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, Department of Planning & Development, Police Department and Department of Neighborhoods. Additional information regarding the UDLP may be found here.

The partnership includes four companion projects: a commercial revitalization plan, urban design framework, community conversations, and long-term leadership. U District Next: A Community Conversation is a series of events designed to bring local and national voices to the U District to provide perspectives of experiences that may be relevant to the future possibilities in the U District. The discussions are structured such that participants will have the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. The first event is to take place on October 11th at 5:30 PM. The event is a walk and talk tour of the University District focused on the pedestrain experience. For additional information, please go here. To learn about future events or to participate through the web visit

In a press release, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) reported that giving to universities rebounded in 2011, raising $30.3 billion, an 8.2 percent increase over last year (4.8 percent, adjusted for inflation). The top 20 fundraising institutions, of which the University of Washington is number 14, received a total of $8.24 billion in 2011, representing a 15.8 percent increase over 2010. The UW raised a total of $334.49 million last year, up 17.3 percent from 2010 and up 5.8 percent from 2006. In general, most increases in giving to universities were earmarked for capital purposes, such as constructing buildings, though giving for operational purposes is still the majority at 58.7 percent.

A major driver of the increases in charitable giving to universities is thought to be the better performance of the stock market in 2011, which increased the value of gifts of stock universities received by 38.2 percent from 2010. Furthermore, the economy began growing again in June 2009, which increased confidence and therefore increased giving. Universities, which appeal to a number of philanthropic interests, were good candidates for investment. Finally, endowments gained back some value they had lost due to the recession, increasing by a median of 17 percent.

The increase in charitable giving to universities is an important development that could signal increasing confidence in the economy and growing interest in investing in students and learning. To read the full report, or to read more about giving at the UW, please click here and here.

The Seattle PI drew attention to two major UW  Initiatives that were recently highlighted in a message from Provost Mary Lidstrom. Be sure to check out the new websites detailing both of these new efforts:

The Seattle Times published an article yesterday that outlined the State Treasurer’s desire to pursue a state constitutional amendment that would require the Legislature, starting in 2015, to invest more money into pension plans up front to help the state avoid ever entering ‘pay-go’ status where pension obligations must be covered from the state general fund.

In the meantime, the Treasurer, Jim McIntire, has requested that the Legislature invest $1.4 billion in existing pension plans for the 2011-13 biennium, a doubling of the $770 million invested in 2009-11.

The current estimated state budget shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium is $5.7 billion, and pension policy will play an important role as the state is forced to reorganize a shrinking budget.

For more information about this issue, read the OPB Brief published earlier this month.

As the economic crisis has continued to batter state budgets across the nation, the compensation of public employees has become a hot button issue for citizens, politicians, and the media. However, the Economic Policy Institute has released a statistical analysis that shows that, after controlling for education, experience, hours worked, organizational size and personal characteristics, state and local government employees are compensated 3.75 percent less than their private sector counterparts (1.8% less for local government employees and 7.6% less for state employees).

The September 2010 EPI Briefing Paper Debunking the Myth of the Overcompensated Public Employee, by Dr. Jeffrey Keefe, uses federal compensation data to analyze differences in total compensation packages for comparable public and private sector employees. Note that the analysis did not include federal workers. Among Keefe’s findings:

  • College-educated public employees cost more than 20% less than similarly educated private sector  employees.
  • Less educated public employees (high school diploma or less) are paid slightly more than private sector employees.
  • Public employees receive a higher portion of their compensation in the form of benefits.
  • After controlling for education, experience, and personal characteristics, an overall compensation differential of 6% is narrowed to 3.7% after accounting for the fact that private sector employees work more hours.

As the public and elected officials debate potential state budget cuts, it is important to contextualize issues such as the pay, benefits, and job security of our public workforce within available data, and to ensure that we are always comparing apples to apples by controlling for the different mix of jobs in both the public and private sector. Keefe’s analysis is a valuable contribution to the discussion.

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