Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to overhaul public higher education funding in his state, but his proposed agenda has been criticized by Democratic opponents as "social engineering" that could prevent students from studying what they're passionate about.
In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation in Simi Valley, Calif. on Friday, Walker announced plans to reform how Wisconsin colleges receive appropriations, tying the funding to college completion rates and pushing for more students to study certain high-demand majors, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
"We’re going to tie our funding in our technical colleges and our University of Wisconsin System into performance and say, if you want money, we need you to perform," Walker said. "In higher education, that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today -- not just the jobs that the universities want to give us, or degrees that people want to give us."
Walker borrowed a line from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) in his speech, saying Wisconsin "shouldn't be paying for butts in seats; we should be paying for outcomes." Walker's office declined to offer specifics about the governor's proposed budget when asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson lashed out at Walker's higher education funding proposal, criticizing it as "social engineering," the Associated Press reported. Larson warned such a change could force students to study "what industry wants" rather than what students themselves want.
State appropriations per student at the University of Wisconsin have essentially stagnated over the past decade. UW has taken big hits in state funding during Walker's tenure, and was targeted with $250 million in cuts over two years in the biennial budget in 2011, according to the Journal Sentinel.
UW System spokesman David Giroux said although the university represents about 7 percent of Wisconsin's spending, it was asked to absorb about about 38 percent of the state's budget cuts. The UW system has already had to increase tuition over inflation and institute furloughs for employees to make ends meet.
Wisconsin has a 34 percent four-year college graduation rate, according to the New America Foundation, a rate on par with neighboring states.