In the course of the debate concerning public unions and collective bargaining, I paused to ask why it would be that only the higher education teachers would be impacted by Governor Walker’s proposal. I figured there must be a reason why higher education benefits were coming under fire, and indeed there is. Searching for information on the driving factors in tuition increases revealed the results. According to Cornell University, staff benefits are indeed a contributing factor:
Faculty salaries — Over the past 40 years Cornell has had to increase tuition by 2 to 3 percent annually to help prevent faculty salaries from slipping behind those at other leading universities. Keeping faculty happy is critical to retaining them.
The rapid growth of administrative staff (including staff to support a sophisticated technology infrastructure), which has risen 123 percent in the last 15 years.
Employee benefits — Employee benefits take a bigger bite out of the budget: In 1976-77, they took 5 percent of the pie; this academic year, they require 12 percent.
But Cornell is a private school. What about a public school? Well, the University of Arizona was likewise studied by the Arizona Daily Star, confirming the same factors as Cornell points out:
Health insurance for employees is one of the two most significant cost increases for the UA, Florian said. The other is utilities.
The UA’s cost for health insurance has increased an average of 10 percent a year since 2004, said Allison Vaillancourt, vice president for human resources.
State funds don’t cover the rising costs.
“Some of those costs are being borne, again, on tuition,” Florian said.
When it comes to pay, the UA needs to pay employees at a certain level to maintain quality, he said.
The last time faculty members got a raise was in 2007, and many of them are paid less than their peers, Vaillancourt said.
In its recent state budget request, the UA told the regents it would need an extra $67 million from the state to bring pay to market levels.
The UA employs more than 14,000 people.
I doubt the University of Wisconsin students who are camping out in the capitol realize what it is they’re really asking the government to do – to allow the public unions to keep placing the burden of rising benefits costs on them. I’m sure they will protest the University when the inevitable tuition hikes come in the coming years with no sense of irony. By trying to reign in the collective bargaining power of higher education, Wisconsin Republicans are trying to help Wisconsin college students by keeping their tuition under control, but they’re are the ones labeled as anti-education.