Out-of-state students graduating from UW-Madison would be eligible for up to about $54,000 in grants if they lived and worked in Wisconsin for a seven-year period after graduation under a bill introduced into the Legislature.
The bill, authored by Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, who chairs the Assembly’s committee on colleges and universities, aims to reduce Wisconsin’s workforce shortage by encouraging out-of-state college students — a group that has rarely been offered incentives by the state before — to live and work in Wisconsin.
Tapping into a growing disparity between resident and non-resident tuition rates, the bill allows nonresidents graduates to “earn” in-state tuition after graduation.
About a quarter of the 175,000 students enrolled at University of Wisconsin campuses came from out of state in the 2017-18 academic year.
The bill would be particularly attractive at UW-Madison where the percentage of nonresident students attending the university has increased over the past decade. In 2009, about a quarter of undergraduates were out-of-state students. In 2018, a third of the undergraduate class came from out of state.
How many of those students stay in Wisconsin after graduation is less clear.
The most recent UW System data shows about 9 in every 10 Wisconsin residents who graduated from a UW campus in 2013-14 were living in Wisconsin a year later. Just 10 percent of Minnesota students graduating from a UW campus that year stayed in Wisconsin and about 17 percent of other nonresidents stayed in Wisconsin a year later.
About 3 percent of Wisconsin Technical College System graduates in 2017-18, or about 750 students, were nonresidents. Data on how many of them work in Wisconsin after graduation was unavailable.
Under Murphy’s bill, nonresidents graduating with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from any UW institution or technical college who live and work in Wisconsin after graduation would be eligible for a grant that is 10% of the total difference between resident and nonresident tuition charged over the student’s career.
For example, UW-Madison charged nonresidents about $27,000 more this year than those in-state, so a Chicagoan who graduates from UW-Madison in four years paid about $108,000 more. Under the proposed bill, the student would be eligible for a roughly $10,800 grant each year for up to five consecutive years. (That’s assuming no adjustments are made to either tuition rate over the four-year period, which is unlikely.)
At other UW campuses and technical colleges, the difference in nonresident and resident tuition is much lower, so the amount that a graduate could earn back is also less.
There’s a few catches to the bill.
First, students must continuously live and work in Wisconsin for at least a two-year grace period before becoming eligible.
Second, graduates earning less than $40,000 would not be eligible under the bill.
Murphy said the goal of the bill is to attract young adults at the beginning of long-term careers, not those with low-paying or part-time jobs in which a degree isn’t required.
The bill’s language is unclear on the grant’s eligibility for people earning less than $40,000 in the two-year grace period who reach the income threshold when the five years begin. For example, the average starting salary for a Wisconsin teacher in 2017-18 was $38,181, according to the National Education Association.
Eligibility in those cases would be up to the Higher Educational Aids Board, which would cut the checks to qualifying candidates, according to Michael Moscicke, a staff member of Murphy’s office.
The cost of the program — up to $15 million in annual grants — could “easily pay for itself” as the state’s tax base grows, Murphy said.
Murphy introduced the bill last session, but it failed to gain traction because the Legislature had more pressing priorities at the time, he said.
He said he’s received calls from some Democrats about the bill, which he took as a good sign.
“We have so many unfilled jobs,” Murphy said. “The problem is there’s no one simple answer. There’s lots of little things you can do.”
Department of Workforce Development projections estimate Wisconsin will have about 210,000 more jobs in 2026 than there were in 2016 and almost a third of those will require at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
The department’s chief economist, Dennis Winters, said in an interview that communities across the country are introducing incentives to lure talent.
For example, remote workers who move to Vermont are eligible to receive up to $10,000. Passed last year, the bill’s sponsor said part of the hope is to retain some of the state’s college students.
Some Republicans have criticized Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ 2019-21 budget proposal for not doing enough to address the state’s workforce shortage.
Tyler Tichenor, a spokesman for the Department of Workforce Development, argued that Evers’ budget — which increases funding for K12 education, the environment and transportation — raises the quality of life for residents to “build a Wisconsin that is attractive to all.”
Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Evers, said he looks forward to finding common ground with Republicans on areas such as higher education.
“We will review Rep. Murphy’s bill once it is introduced,” she said when asked if Evers would sign the bill into law if it passes both houses.
Just 10 percent of Minnesota students graduating in 2013-14 from a UW campus that year stayed in Wisconsin and about 17 percent of other nonresidents stayed in Wisconsin a year later.
A recommendation to prohibit shooting bucks this year in Buffalo County has many hunters and residents up in arms.
That likely would be true in any county in a state with such a prized deer-hunting tradition, but the reaction is especially strong in Buffalo County because it is widely considered one of North America’s top destinations for hunting trophy bucks.
The recommendation, approved 4-1 last week by the Buffalo County Deer Advisory Council, is intended to reduce the county’s white-tailed deer population.
“This is a nightmare with what they created,” said Dan Rolbiecki, a taxidermist at Ridge Top Taxidermy in Fountain City. “This is going to snowball in the next few weeks like you wouldn’t believe.”
The issue already has gotten the attention of members of the state’s Natural Resources Board, which is expected to establish deer-hunting rules across the state at its May 22 meeting in Madison.
NRB chairman Frederick Prehn said he took calls all Easter weekend from people upset about the proposal, which he characterized as “radical,” and knows other board members are getting input as well.
“I know the board is very concerned with the recommendation and the process used to come up with the recommendation,” Prehn said. “There will definitely be some lively discussion.”
In the end, constructive conversation is what the Buffalo County Deer Advisory Council was aiming for by approving what members knew would be a controversial recommendation, said Mark Noll, the panel’s chairman.
“None of us on the committee want this to go through, and none of us think it will go through,” Noll said.
Instead, the council hoped to use the county’s status as a trophy buck haven to call attention to the lack of tools available to counties to control the size of their deer herds.
“By golly, they’re talking about it now,” Noll said. “We’re starting a revolution. We have lit a fire.”
Some folks in Buffalo County, however, argue the stakes are too high to take a chance on such a dramatic proposal and would prefer to see people take the matter up with legislators.
Rolbiecki, for instance, estimated he would lose 70 percent of his income if the antlerless-only rule is approved.
He also maintained the process leading to the vote was too secretive.
“The public didn’t even know they would vote on this,” Rolbiecki said. “If they did, I guarantee we would have had a gymnasium full of people opposed to it.”
Jarrad Fluekiger, owner of Rutting Ridge Outfitters in Alma, said the proposal, if approved, would have a huge negative economic impact on Buffalo County, harming outfitters, motels, restaurants, gas stations, meat processors, taxidermists and other businesses that serve hunters or tourists.
“It would crush my business,” he said. “I’d have to shut it down.”
Outfitters typically pay $70,000 to $100,000 a year to rent land used for hunting, and many other county landowners use income earned by renting out hunting land to offset their property taxes, Fluekiger said.
Spurred by Buffalo County’s reputation as the No. 1 county in the nation for producing large bucks as determined by the wildlife conservation and big game recordkeeping group Boone and Crockett, hunters converge on the county every fall from across the country and even abroad.
“People come from all over to hunt Buffalo County, but they wouldn’t come if they couldn’t hunt bucks,” Fluekiger said. “You can shoot a doe just about anywhere.”
The problem, according to Noll, is that the county’s advisory council has used every tool in its toolbox in an attempt to reduce the deer herd, but to no avail. The need to decrease the number of deer in the county has grown more urgent with the spread of chronic wasting disease.
“We want to do what’s right for the resource,” he said.
The council initially discussed an antlerless-only Holiday Hunt that would run through Jan. 31, 2020, but a large contingent of snowmobilers showed up at last week’s meeting and objected to that idea.
Noll said the panel’s final vote, taken despite awareness that members of CDACs in other counties have faced death threats for even making preliminary buck-hunting ban recommendations, came with sadness and reluctance.
“It was probably the most dramatic meeting I’ve ever been a part of,” said Noll, adding that he was a Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegate for 37 years.
Noll said the former Earn-A-Buck program, which required hunters to kill an antlerless deer before shooting a buck, was the only tool that was successful in reducing the size of the deer herd. But the state Legislature banned that controversial regulation in 2011.
Buffalo County is the first county in the state to approve a final recommendation for an antlerless-only hunting season.
The measure now advances to the state Department of Natural Resources, which can endorse the recommendation or offer its own alternative, but historically has seldom overridden county council recommendations.
The Natural Resources Board will take comments for the next four weeks and then listen to public testimony at its May 22 meeting before making a final decision.
“The buck stops with us,” Prehn said. “We’re the ones who set the season.”
“People come from all over to hunt Buffalo County, but they wouldn’t come if they couldn’t hunt bucks. You can shoot a doe just about anywhere.” Jarrad Fluekiger, owner of Rutting Ridge Outfitters in Alma
Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture intends to spend $29 million on solar panels to power its factories as part of a plan to offset more than a third of its energy needs.
The company, with electricity demands equivalent to more than 10,000 Wisconsin homes, expects to trim its electric bills by $5 million in the first year alone.
“We need a lot of energy to manufacture our products and it only makes sense to use renewable sources,” founder and chairman Ron Wanek said in a statement. “This is a long-term investment, not only for Ashley, but for our environment. We are taking proactive steps and hope to see others in our industry join us.”
The first phase of installations involve about 17.5 megawatts of capacity, said Chad Sorenson, president of Madison-based SunPeak, which is handling the design, construction, and maintenance of the projects.
Included in that is a roughly 7-megawatt system on the roof of Ashley’s headquarters campus in Arcadia, which would be the largest rooftop solar system in the state, according to Renew Wisconsin.
Construction is expected to start this month on a smaller installation at a distribution center in Romeoville, Illinois.
Solar panels are planned for factories in California, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Those in Arcadia and Ecru, Mississippi, are likely to be the largest.
Ashley’s goal is to offset 35 percent of its electricity needs, which will likely result in more panels.
Ashley will join Wisconsin-based companies such as Epic Systems Corp., of Verona, and Madison-based American Family Insurance, which have systems larger than 1 megawatt. Target and Walmart have long been national leaders, with more than 100 megawatts each, while tech giants have contracted for record amounts of solar energy to power data centers.
“More and more businesses see solar power as an opportunity to, number 1, make a cost-effective investment in reducing their operating costs … and pairing that with sustainability and environmental benefits,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.
Sorenson said the size of the projects allowed the company to save money on both the parts and the engineering.
“This portfolio will be among the most cost-competitive systems for rooftop solar in the country,” he said.
The system planned for the 52-acre rooftop of the Arcadia facility would be larger than any single solar facility currently operating in Wisconsin and larger than one being installed by the local utility.
“It’s almost like a city under a roof,” Sorenson said.
Ashley’s fleet of electric forklifts and pallet-jacks provides an existing storage system that Sorenson said will make the solar panels even more effective.
An Ashley spokesman said the company plans to use all the energy generated on site, rather than selling excess power back to local utilities.
Sorenson, who founded SunPeak in 2014, said this will be the company’s largest project to date.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “This is a big step up for us. It’s a real national customer that everybody’s heard of.”