University of Wisconsin System raises in-state tuition for 2023-24 year | Green Bay Press Gazette
The board overseeing Wisconsin’s public university system voted Thursday to increase tuition for in-state undergraduates.
It’s the first rate increase since 2012, a move craved by University of Wisconsin System campuses that have operated under financial strain for years and opposed by students who already take out tens of thousands of dollars to earn their degrees.
“We’re all going to get some blowback,” Regent Bob Atwell said. “We’re seeing it in our inboxes already.”
But Atwell and others believe the increased rates are necessary and that UW remains a better value than peer schools, which have increased tuition at much higher rates.
Rodney Pasch, who serves on the board due to his position on the state Technical College System board, cast the lone dissenting vote during a discussion that lasted less than 30 minutes. He supported a tuition increase, but wanted it smaller than proposed.
Two other regents, Héctor Colón and UW-Parkside student Jennifer Staton, were not present for the vote.
“There’s a lever here that has not been exercised for over 10 years,” Regent Scott Beightol said. “I think it’s time to move that lever, and the case has been made.”
How much more will students pay?
The plan passed Thursday will drive up base tuition for in-state undergraduates by an average of 5% in the 2023-24 school year, according to the UW System. The increases range from 3.9% at UW-Eau Claire to 7.4% at UW-Green Bay. Annual rates range from $6,767 at UW-Green Bay to $9,646 at UW-Madison.
The board also voted to raise student fees, housing and meal plans. A campus-by-campus breakdown of the annual cost of college shows UW-Madison charging about $23,000, or $669 more. At UW-Milwaukee, the cost increases $743 to $20,749. Overall, the cost is increasing by an average of 4%, or $706.
Undergraduates from outside Wisconsin will see their tuition increase anywhere from 2.5% at UW-Milwaukee to 5.6% at UW-Green Bay.
Additional fees for certain programs, mostly STEM
The average increases don’t account for “tuition differentials,” which are additional costs tacked onto specific programs or schools.
Depending on the program or university, students enrolled in engineering, nursing, biomedical, business, computer science, cybersecurity, construction management and fine arts programs will cough up between $300 to $2,000 more per year.
UW-Parkside stands alone in not charging any tuition differentials.
More colleges are tacking these charges onto students’ bills, said Robert Kelchen, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville professor who is researching the topic nationally. Differentials are used to prevent lower-cost programs from subsidizing more expensive ones that are in high demand.
Some schools nationally have added differentials as a way to circumvent tuition caps. In other cases, it’s about optics, he said. Under pressure by the public to minimize tuition increases, schools can announce small tuition increases while letting increased differentials get lost in the details but still rein in more revenue.
How much debt do UW students graduate with?
Debt in Wisconsin is relatively low compared to other states, ranking 45th in average debt per borrower across all 50 states, according to a UW-Madison research lab studying college affordability.
Median federal loan debt for UW students ranged from $20,000 to $25,000 in 2017-18 — an amount that doesn’t include private, institutional, state or Parent PLUS loans.
Why do UW campuses need to raise tuition?
UW System leaders have long said the tuition freeze was unsustainable. Costs continue to rise, and inflation has accelerated in recent years. Most campuses are heavily reliant on tuition as their main source of income.
To balance budgets, schools have taken a variety of approaches. UW-Madison enrolled more out-of-state students and ramped up fundraising. Other campuses with far fewer resources have cut programs, laid off employees, spent down reserve funds and increased instructors’ teaching loads.
Even with the tuition increase, UW System President Jay Rothman said unspent tuition reserves saved for cases of financial emergency are projected to be at their lowest point at the end of the next school year.
“In other words, we are consuming our savings,” he said.
How long was tuition frozen?
The Republican-controlled Legislature froze tuition for in-state undergraduates starting in the 2013-14 school year to express outrage over a state audit. The audit’s findings showed the UW System held hundreds of millions of unspent tuition money while raising tuition 5.5%, the maximum allowed by law at the time, for six consecutive years.
Most of the unspent money was set aside or planned for a specific program or project. The UW System’s finance office now produces detailed reports showing how much money is left over at the end of each fiscal year and how the dollars will be spent.
Republicans sent tuition-setting authority back to the UW Regents after eight years, but the board declined to increase tuition in the past two school years, aided by an infusion of federal pandemic relief money.
How will UW spend the extra money?
The tuition increase is expected to generate $38 million annually, UW System President Jay Rothman said.
About $25 million of the money will go toward covering half of the 2% cost-of-living salary adjustments that UW System employees received in January and part of the 4% pay increases requested for employees next January.
The cumulative effect on funding modest employee raises without state money to pay for it in recent years is the “No. 1 reason we’re coming to you today” with a tuition increase proposal, UW System vice president of finance Sean Nelson told the board.
Campuses will put the remaining money toward a variety of priorities, such as increased staffing in advising and mental health counseling.
What do students think about the tuition increase?
Unsurprisingly, most students weren’t supportive of the plan.
The student government at UW-Madison is against the overall increase, as well as the tuition differentials, spokesperson Meghan Savaglia said.
UW-Milwaukee Student Association President Mia Heredia said she supports paying employees adequate wages but wished administrators used a different funding avenue to achieve the goal instead of putting more financial burden onto the backs of students.
The average UWM student has nearly $7,500 in unmet financial need — and that’s after taking into account loans, grants, scholarships and family contributions.
“How do we help folks who are drowning with the freeze already in place?” she asked.
Some options for low-income students
UW-Madison offers Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which fully covers tuition for Wisconsin students whose families make $65,000 or less per year. It’s alsolaunching Bucky’s Pell Pathway next year to cover nearly all other expenses, such as room and board. Both programs are funded without taxpayer dollars.
UW System is launching a similar program next fall that provides full tuition coverage for new, in-state freshmen and transfer students whose families earn $62,000 or less.
Rothman has asked the state to fund the program beyond the first year but a top Republican has signaled a lack of support for the idea being funded with taxpayer money.
Additional coverage can be found here: WFRV