At first blush, Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-2018 state budget undoubtedly drew some sighs of relief from administrators at university campuses throughout the state.

Unlike past budgets, the governor is proposing to spend 3.65 percent more on institutions of higher learning and to boost the number of authorized positions a bit as well.

But (and there is always a but in these things) Walker’s budget plan is also proposing some new measuring sticks to assess the performance of campuses — with the ones that do well in “measuring up” to a matrix of standards getting a bigger slice of the pay for performance pie.

And that has some campuses already fingering their worry beads. The University of Wisconsin-Parkside is one of them. UW-Milwaukee is another.

That’s because a recent analysis by UW-Madison Associate Professor Nicholas Hillman found that Parkside would rank lowest of the state’s 13 UW System campuses — and would presumably then get a smaller slice of the $42.5 million in performance incentives that Walker has set aside to spur campuses to compete against each other in the next biennium.

UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford is one of the worriers and she expressed her concerns recently in a meeting with The Journal Times Editorial Board.

There is little doubt that Walker and the Legislature will move ahead with their performance-based metrics, but Ford — and other System officials — are concerned about which metrics will be used and if they will be fair to campuses with different missions and different student profiles.

The exact metrics — the measuring stick for campuses — are still being developed and include things like overall graduation rates, average time to earn a degree, percentage of students in internships and low-income student graduation rates.

Ford said Parkside could be hurt by the graduation rate metric which is based on full-time students who enroll in the fall and finish at the same college where they began. That doesn’t reflect — or count — the number of Parkside students who start part-time or come in as transfer students during the course of their education.

The measuring stick is fine for a big university with full-time students bent on getting a degree in four years — but not so fine for a commuter college or for universities with students who have to work their education around a full-time job.

And, yes, not surprisingly, the University of Wisconsin-Madison ranked at the top of the list to get an extra slice of the governor’s pie in Hillman’s analysis.

The simple fact is that the missions of campuses in the UW System vary from campus to campus. Part of Parkside’s mission, for instance, is to encourage access to people in the area who seek a college education. That serves a community with lower incomes and with higher minority populations — and that’s important here in southeastern Wisconsin.

UW-Madison may be more selective in the students it takes — but it is not encouraging access.

And that’s an issue the Legislature needs to address as it move ahead with the budget process.

“We’re asking for some time to work with the governor and his staff and the Legislature to develop those outcomes measures that really fit with the university system,” Ford said.

We would urge area legislators to lend Ford’s reasoned arguments an ear and help the UW-Parkside achieve performance goals — but goals that reflect its mission and its importance to Racine and Kenosha counties.

Setting goals and using measuring sticks are fine — as long as they’re measuring the right things.


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