One Republican state representative is championing legislation that would set up a contingency plan if Wisconsin’s freeze on in-state undergraduate tuition goes away — a move he says could alter the discussion about lifting the freeze going forward.
Under the bill from Rep. Dave Murphy, the Board of Regents would be able to raise tuition on resident undergrads at University of Wisconsin System schools should the freeze end, though the increase would be tied to the consumer price index.
The legislation would also implement cohort pricing, where tuition levels are set during a student’s freshman term and stay stagnant all four years they’re in school, a move Murphy said would give “certainty” to students and their families.
Murphy said he had a similar bill drafted four years ago, though it was never introduced, and at the time he viewed it as a way out of a legislative or gubernatorial-imposed freeze. He added he still views his plan that way, “to a certain extent.”
“If we have two more years of freeze — which I think is a virtual certainty at this point — I think if there's a bill in place going into the next budget, people would look at that much differently,” Murphy said in an interview before the state budget, which includes a continuation of the freeze, was signed into law.
The freeze first began under then-Gov. Scott Walker in the 2013-14 school year following outrage over the system’s cash reserves. The Legislature’s budget committee in May voted to continue the freeze for two more years, but opted not to compensate campuses for the lost revenue, as Gov. Tony Evers sought.
Cohort tuition pricing has faced difficulty at other institutions because of the challenge of trying to fit nontraditional students or students not on a four-year track into the model. But Murphy said he's looking to combat that in his bill by not legislating all the possibilities and instead making it "as simple as possible" for universities to administer.
“You just have to say to yourself, ‘I can't fix every problem everywhere, all the time,’” he said.
The legislation is just one of a handful that the Greenville Republican and chair of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee is preparing to introduce.
One bill draft looks to put limits on what student segregated fees can be used for.
Specifically, it wouldn't allow those fees to be used for new building projects, although existing facility maintenance would be allowed, or intercollegiate athletics. But the funding could still go toward student organizations, government and media, recreational sports, and student health and transportation services.
"When you're looking at a seg fee, it should be something that is, you know, 'I'm getting something, I'm paying for it.' But when you start building buildings that are around for 50 years, that becomes a rather dicey proposition," Murphy said.
Murphy initially considered also giving the Board of Regents bonding authority under the bill, as well as the ability to enter into building construction contracts and utilize the design-build method for projects, but that language was removed in a later iteration of the bill.
A Murphy spokesman said the lawmaker is looking to introduce a separate bill that would allow all Wisconsin capital building projects — not just UW ones — to use design-build, in which the designer and contractor operate in tandem off a single contract, rather than being split between two separate agreements.
Two other higher education bills aim to make it easier to transfer credits between UW colleges and four-year institutions by requiring the implementation of a universal course numbering and credit transfer system within five years; and set up a firewall between UW institutions and foundations, alumni groups or other affiliated organizations.
The latter is largely in response to a March 2018 Legislative Audit Bureau report that recommended tightening oversight and monitoring of those organizations through implementing accounting and policy changes. The report came amidst scrutiny over two former UW-Oshkosh officials and the university's private foundation after it went bankrupt.
That bill draft looks to tighten up language to protect the UW System — and taxpayers -- from having to bail out affiliated organizations in certain cases when they make agreements with state universities. It also seeks to ensure that university resources aren't put toward affiliated organizations without being tracked or authorized by campus officials.
Another provision would aim to put limits on certain responsibilities the Board of Regents can delegate to administrative officers, including chancellors and their deputies. While moves such as approving campus-level budgets or certain hiring decisions could still be delegated, the language would look to ensure they're reviewed by a board or faculty or advisory group.
The final bill draft would allow graduate health science classes to begin the fall semester at any point and alter UW Systems requirements for reporting to the state. The legislation mirrors a bill he introduced last session, though it didn't get anywhere.
The package of five bills comes after Murphy earlier this spring put forward a measure to give out-of-state UW System graduates grant money if they live and work in the state post-graduation.