College News

What a tuition freeze means for UW-Madison students

Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to maintain the current UW System tuition freeze if re-elected in November could mean program cuts and longer time to graduation for students, lawmakers warn.

Image By: Kaitlyn Veto

In July, Gov. Scott Walker announced that, if re-elected, he would continue to support a tuition freeze for in-state students at UW System schools for the next four years.

The freeze, which the state legislature enacted six years ago, was designed to prevent college students’ tuition costs from rising after they enrolled at a state school.

“Prior to the freeze, UW tuition went up 118 percent during the prior decade,” Walker’s campaign spokesman said in a statement last month. “That’s unacceptable, so Gov. Walker took action.”

The tuition freeze has been criticized in the past from both lawmakers and university officials. Arguments claimed the effects of ongoing funding cuts to the UW System have only been exacerbated by the tuition cap, and they have called on Gov. Walker to fund the freeze.

“A tuition freeze, to hold tuition flat, only works when you offset the freeze with more state funding,” state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said. “Over the last few years, the tuition freeze hasn’t been offset with more state funding.”

In fact, current state funding for the UW System is $624 million less — in inflation-adjusted terms — than it was in when Walker took office, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Schools across the state have felt the financial pressure. In Rep. Shankland’s district, UW-Stevens Point has seen massive program cuts in the past year alone, and other schools are facing similar challenges. Universities are struggling to retain top professors and support world class research, and system-wide rumors of consolidation and restructuring became a reality over the summer.

Rep. Shankland warned that without adequate state funding, other UW System schools could be forced to make similar program cuts, and that an underfunded tuition freeze could result in more expenses for students.

“When you put a tuition freeze on top of those state cuts, what you’re really looking at is students’ inability to graduate on time because of bottlenecks — they are waiting to get into classes, they are waiting to get into the courses they need to graduate,” she said. “I really feel that that extra semester or two to graduate because you can’t get your courses, it’s not fair. It means more student loans, but it also means a lost opportunities.”

At UW-Stevens Point, Rep. Shankland said some students initiated their own differential tuition program, where they voluntarily raised their tuition so that they could take the classes they needed to graduate on time.

She also expressed concern that freezing tuition in-state forces tuition to be hiked for out-of-state students. She said the Board of Regents has, in the past, raised out-of-state students’ tuition to make up for for state funding.

Gov. Walker’s Democratic opponents are divided about whether or not tuition should remain frozen.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, the current Democratic frontrunner, said he would support extending the tuition freeze — or even lowering the cost of college — so long as the state extends financial support to the school in other ways.

”The state funding is where the rubber hits the road,” Evers said. “For [the freeze] to work, we need more state money. That’s the bottom line.”

Firefighters Union president Mahlon Mitchell and lawyer Josh Pade said they would keep the freeze in place as well, while former Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn, liberal activist Mike McCabe and former state Rep. Kelda Roys said they would cut tuition. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said she would defer to the Board of Regents before making a decision, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Evers and Rep. Shankland both called on students and their families to make funding for the UW System a focus as the November gubernatorial elections approach and as lawmakers begin to discuss the state’s 2019-’20 budget cycle.

“I’d encourage everyone to be as civically engaged as possible, because so many student leaders are doing an amazing job laying the gauntlet for what our future should look, and how our state should look,” Rep. Shankland said.

Evers also said the state needs to stand steadfast in its commitment to the UW System, whether that be by philosophy or by funding.

“I believe in the UW-System. It’s a good investment for the state,” Evers said. “But students and their parents need to be active in the issue of having adequate resources. It cannot just come from the students, it has to come from the state.”

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