The University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents has approved a resolution calling for an undergraduate tuition increase in the second half of the next state budget.
The measure approved Friday seeks to keep a freeze in place for the first half of the biennium, and then raise in-state undergraduate tuition by no more than the rate of inflation during the 2018-19 school year. Regent Gerald Whitburn said the plan is an appropriate move, after four years of holding the line on tuition. “It seems to me that the adjustment is modest, and it should be affordable for students and for their families,” he said.
Whitburn and others also argued that a tuition increase is needed, given the financial condition of the UW System. Campuses have been under a freeze for the past four years, which was put in place by Republican lawmakers after it was discovered the System was sitting on large cash reserves built up during a time period in which tuition was being raised each year. System officials argue the move, when combined with $362 million in cuts to the UW since 2012, have resulted in larger classes sizes and reduced course offerings, which can increase the time it takes for students to graduate.
System President Ray Cross noted that a $100 per semester increase in tuition ends up costing a student $800 over four years. However, being forced to take another semester can cost them at least $5,000. “The ability for us to help those students complete on time is an incredibly important affordability factor,” Cross said.
While the resolution passed unanimously, several regents did advise caution about not damaging the trust that’s been rebuilt over the last four years during the freeze. Regent James Langnes, a UW-Whitewater student, said he understands that the price tag of a UW education can’t remain the same as costs go up. “I realize that in the future that tuition will rise, but we must do so with great due diligence,” he warned.
Passage of the resolution does not guarantee students will see tuition go up in two years. The Board would need lawmakers to end the freeze in the next state budget, which is something Governor Scott Walker and majority Republicans have only said they may consider while working on the plan.