UW System president launches reform plan; strategy calls for reducing credits for graduation

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MADISON, Wisconsin — University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross has launched a broad plan to find administrative savings, streamline academic requirements and re-examine the need for elective and low-participation courses.

Cross announced the plan during a Board of Regents meeting Friday in Madison. He said the plan is designed to create a UW System that's more responsive to the state's needs and put it in a better position to ask legislators for money and flexibility.

"Our goal is to strengthen academic programming and to better explain to legislators and to the public all the good work done by our faculty and staff," Cross said.

Cross has been working since he became president earlier this year to repair relationships with the GOP, which controls both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office.

Republicans heaped criticism on the system last year after word broke that the campuses had amassed huge financial surpluses while raising tuition year after year. They froze tuition in response and Gov. Scott Walker has vowed to maintain the freeze in the upcoming state budget. Cross has still asked for an additional $95 million for the system. Republican legislators say that's a tough sell, but Cross isn't giving up.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, released a statement saying he appreciates Cross addressing the system's problems and hopes the plan will help students graduate faster and put professors in the classroom longer.

"Wisconsin students, their parents and taxpayers deserve to have a UW System that provides and affordable, quality education that is delivered without any concerns of fiscal mismanagement," Vos said.

Cross told the regents his new plan calls for:

—Scouring the system's administrative operations to identify potential savings and determine whether some services could be consolidated or eliminated. The Huron Consulting Group has already worked with several campuses and identified savings, Cross said.

—Setting up a hotline within the system for reporting fraud and waste.

—Reforming the search process for system presidents, chancellors and vice presidential positions. Right now candidates must pass muster with search and selection committees before their names are forwarded to the full Board of Regents for hiring consideration. Cross said national search firms have told system officials the process is keeping highly qualified candidates from applying.

—Scrutinizing low-participation courses to make sure they're necessary.

—Reviewing what Cross called the "proliferation" of elective courses so students who need access to needed core courses are the priority.

—Reducing the number of credits needed to graduate so students have a better chance of finishing in four years. System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi clarified in a telephone interview after the regents meeting that Cross wants to ensure every student can graduate with the current minimum requirement of 120 credits in eight semesters. LaRoi said some graduation requirements in some accounting, engineering and education programs have started creeping over that minimum.

—Reviewing how campuses spend and account for money generated through fees.

Cross offered no specific goals or benchmarks for any of the initiatives.

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