President Reilly proposes lower tuition, higher aid, more workforce development

UW System students will benefit from small tuition increases and big investments in financial aid under ideas proposed in a statement released Friday afternoon by UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. Reilly will also recommend strategic investments in new Flexible Option degree programs and other efforts to boost Wisconsin’s economy. “Based on the solid UW System budget introduced in February, which is now making its way through the legislature, we are in a position to take big steps that will help all our students and all Wisconsin citizens,” the president said. He promised to work with the Board of Regents, the Legislature, and the Governor on four key strategies:

Reduce tuition increases to 2% for two years
“This budget represents much-needed stability for our colleges, universities and extension networks. If those funding and flexibility provisions for UW remain intact, I will recommend tuition rates for the 2013-14 academic year that represent no more than a 2% increase this year, and a 2%increase again for the 2014-15 academic year,” Reilly said. “When Governor Walker announced his budget, we said this would set the stage for very low,very modest increases, and we meant it.”

Eliminate the waiting list for financial aid
Reilly will also recommend that the UW System reallocate up to $30 million over the next two years for additional need-based financial aid, including outright grants and work-study opportunities. “Our goal is simple — we want to eliminate the waiting list for the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant (WHEG) program. This means that students who meet the eligibility requirement for financial aid in the 2013-15 biennium will receive adequate funding from UW to continue working toward their degrees,” Reilly said. Last year, more than 30,600 UW System students received a WHEG award, at an average amount of $1,900, but 5,350 eligible students — those with documented need — remained on the waiting list after the state program ran out of money.

Invest in performance-based economic development programs
The proposed 2013-15 state budget provides $20 million in performance funding for UW initiatives that create a stronger workforce and boost economic development. Reilly will ask the Regents to match those investments with an additional $20 million.

Accelerate Flex Option launch
The budget calls for $2 million in state funding to launch innovative new UW Flexible Option degree programs. Reilly will recommend a $10 million one-time investment to help launch this new platform.

Thanks to cautious, prudent fiscal management and the strong budget proposed by Governor Walker, Reilly said, “I believe we are in a position to hold down college costs, increase student aid, expand educational options, and boost economic growth. We must live up to our financial obligations and maintain some fiscal safety net, but we can also identify smart ways to reinvest a portion of our reserves now in UW students and our state. This is just such an opportunity.” Read more.

Meanwhile: Walker, GOP lawmakers urge 2-year UW tuition freeze
That was the headline on a lengthy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story Saturday. The subhead “They’re incensed over size of UW System’s surplus; UW disputes how big it is” hints at the political battle that erupted Friday when a Legislative Audit Bureau review showed the UW System with a sizeable cash balance at the close of Fiscal Year 2012. UW System officials say that only about $207 million of the cash balance was unrestricted or uncommitted, while the LIB puts it at closer to $650 million. Choosing a number about halfway in between, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) offered comments that were representative of the negative reaction: “If you have $450 million in your piggy bank, I can’t see why you need another nickel.” Gov. Scott Walker reacted by saying the surplus shows that tuition hikes aren’t necessary, and said he would urge lawmakers to institute a two-year freeze. Read story.

Students applaud tuition freeze idea, but urge caution on UW System budget
The United Council of UW Students reacted immediately Friday to news regarding the size of the UW System’s current cash reserve and the Governor’s proposal for a two-year tuition freeze. Geoff Murray, president of the statewide student group and a UW-Stevens Point student, questioned why the balances seemed relatively large, said he welcomed the freeze, and also urged lawmakers to proceed slowly on the reserve fund issue and not penalize the UW and its students in the upcoming budget.

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