Tuition for in-state undergraduates enrolled at a University of Wisconsin System campus will remain flat over the next school year under a plan put forth by System officials.
That’s despite the UW Board of Regents being poised to have its tuition-setting authority restored for the first time in eight years under a state budget that Gov. Tony Evers must act on by Friday.
The Regents are scheduled to vote on the System’s budget at a Thursday meeting in Madison. The proposal to keep tuition the same comes after more than a year of mostly online learning that led to many students calling for a tuition refund.
The Republican-controlled Legislature froze resident undergraduate tuition in 2013 and kept it that way through the 2020-21 school year. The move has been hailed by students and families as a way to keep the cost of college more affordable.
But coupled with state cuts, the strategy starved UW campuses of a primary source of revenue. Schools have responded by increasing teacher workloads, cutting programs, enrolling more out-of-state students and laying off employees.
GOP lawmakers in late May agreed it was time to lift the freeze. But they warned the Regents they would take action if the board increased tuition too much and introduced a bill last month that would cap in-state undergraduate tuition increases to inflation in the previous year.
The consumer price index from December 2019 to 2020, for example, was 1.36%. UW System officials estimate a tuition and fee increase of that amount would generate about $11.3 million across the 26 campuses, with UW-Madison’s share totaling $2.9 million.
UW leaders have long lamented the freeze. In 2019-20, UW-Madison charged in-state undergraduates the fifth-lowest tuition rate among public Big Ten schools and charged out-of-state students the third-highest.
Asked why interim System President Tommy Thompson didn’t include a tuition increase in the budget, System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said only that the Regents and Thompson “are committed to a thoughtful consideration of tuition.”
The average cost of attending college this year will, however, increase slightly.
When factoring in room and board, along with student fees, System officials calculate the average cost for a Wisconsin student living on campus will increase 1%, or $160 at four-year campuses. At UW-Madison, student fees will decrease from $1,469 to $1,447, dorm rates will increase by about $200 and meal plans will cost $50 more.
The budget Republicans forwarded to Evers also includes $8.25 million in additional state money for the System, a fraction of the $96 million UW requested and all of which is tied to a specific purpose. That means campuses will have to find a way to foot their portion of a 2% pay increase for UW employees in each of the next two years — about $8.4 million — with existing funds.
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