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New financial aid and tuition models could mean more help for low-income students - Day 1 Regents meeting news summary (Dec 8, 2005)

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December 8, 2005

University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents
December 2005 Meeting
Day One News Summary

New financial aid and tuition models could mean more help for low-income students

MADISON-A creative, long-term financial aid and tuition plan is among the possibilities the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents may consider to increase access to a UW education, especially for students who come from lower-income families.

"For generations of Wisconsinites, the UW has been their best option to a brighter future," said UW System president Kevin P. Reilly, who opened the Board's discussion during its December meeting on Thrusday (Dec. 8). "For hundreds of thousands, it has represented a ticket to progress and prosperity. And it has for them always, always, been accessible."

But today, Reilly noted, citizens are increasingly concerned about how they will afford a UW education and whether they can receive grants, or low-interest loans, for that purpose.

"Perhaps worst of all, worst of all, many Wisconsin families, when they sit around the dinner table, are not talking to their children about a college education, because they don't consider it a possibility," he continued.

Reilly encouraged Regents to "think big" about ways the UW System can structure tuition and financial aid to increase student access to a UW education.

"I know that, together, we can make the dream of a university degree a reality for all Wisconsin residents who want to earn one, and who want to work to earn one, regardless of wealth," he said.

The Board was presented with background about several tuition and financial policies, but took no action on Thursday.

Financial aid models the UW System could consider include a "need guarantee" model, which provides grants to reduce debt loads for students from the lowest-income families. This model is used at campuses like the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois, and the University of Minnesota.

Other models might include a "pledge" program, which provides scholarships for students who fulfill promises made during secondary education to meet academic and behavioral standards; or the "large state grant" model, which covers tuition and fees using state funds. Such a program in Wisconsin would require substantially more state support for state grants, said Sharon Wilhelm, UW System associate vice president for policy analysis and research. Loan-forgiveness programs are another option the state might wish to expand, she said.

The Board also reviewed options that would use tuition dollars to fund additional financial aid for students within the UW System.

While student aid has traditionally been a state responsibility, Freda Harris, associate vice president for budget and planning, told the Board that it might want to consider ways to use tuition to increase aid in this time of diminishing state and federal funds for higher education.

Harris presented several models, including "tuition-funded financial aid" which would increase tuition for all students, but make available additional financial aid to lower costs for lower-income students. This approach might require changes to state law, she said as well as aggressive communication to reduce "sticker shock" for eligible students.

In general, Harris said, each 1 percent increase in tuition would mean an additional $40 to $60 per year for an individual UW student, and would generate $5.5 million in tuition revenue overall.

Another model would set tuition rates based on a student's ability to pay, optimally, freezing current tuition rates for low-income students. Tuition could remain below the rates at peer institutions in this structure, but Harris noted that students are concerned about the income levels at which a student's tuition requirement might change. No other states have implemented this kind of "two-tiered" approach.

A nonresident tuition rollback plan might help achieve the Board's goal to increase "brain gain" in Wisconsin, Harris said. This approach would reduce current rates for nonresident undergraduates, of which the UW System has lost more than 900 since 2001-02, but would still generate income to help pay for the costs of educating students from Wisconsin. This kind of change would have the most effect at campuses other than UW-Madison, she said. In addition, nonresident tuition rates would still be set so as not to decrease any access for resident students.

Fewer students from lower-income backgrounds are enrolling at UW campuses today than in recent years, Wilhelm noted. If the student body reflected the state's population, students would enroll in balanced numbers from different backgrounds in terms of family income. While 2004 represented a slight uptick in the overall trend, Wilhelm noted that just 12.3 percent of students came from families in the lowest of five income brackets the university uses to track enrollments.

Wilhelm also reminded the Board that it had requested state funding in the last budget to "hold harmless" students from the lowest-income families, those with incomes below $47,000, from future tuition increases. That program was not fully funded, she said, but she did note that the final state budget included substantial increases in state financial aid.

Wilhelm's review also looked at other factors that might inhibit students from lower-income families from pursuing a higher education.

"Is it an academic barrier or a financial barrier that prevents low-income students from attending a UW?" Wilhelm asked.

She presented data that shows, across a range of academic test scores, students from low-income families were less represented at UW institutions than students from families with higher incomes.

Wilhelm also noted that state financial aid grants have not kept pace with increases in tuition. While the state contributed $60 million toward grants in 2004-05, the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant increased less than $300 from 2001 to 2004, for example, but resident undergraduate tuition and fees increased an average of $1,500. She noted that current grant levels leave a gap of approximately $8,500 for students to fill in paying for the total cost to attend college, which includes costs like room and board, and textbooks.

Wilhelm reviewed a set of principles that could be used in setting financial policy, including that socio-economic diversity enhances the learning environment, that student success is greatest when financial barriers are eliminated, that communicating opportunities to students and their families should be a priority, and that the system should track financial aid goals. The Board has also identified access, retention and "brain gain" as goals for future financial aid policies.

Regent Judy Crain of Green Bay said that when the Board makes decisions about future policies for tuition and financial aid, the plans must be made clear to students, families and the public.

Regent Thomas Loftus of Sun Prairie said that members of the Legislature have said they perceive UW admissions as "meritocracies run amok," and have urged that the UW ensure students from a variety of academic abilities can access a higher education.

"This university should grow to meet the needs of the state," he said.

Enrollment is certainly a factor driving selectivity in student admission, as well as tuition rates and levels of financial aid, said UW System Executive Senior Vice President Donald Mash. The Board will hear a presentation on enrollment at its February meeting.

Regent Michael Spector of Milwaukee said that students should still consider working during their college years, as some of his most successful employees have done.

"If they'd shown willingness to support themselves in some way, it was definitely a predictor of lifelong success," Spector said. Reilly noted that several aid programs in other states do require students to participate in federal work study programs.

Regent Gerard Randall of Milwaukee said that many African-American students attend historically black colleges and universities because they are able to provide financial aid packages that appear more beneficial, but may require students to incur large debt loads.

"We could do a better job in assisting families. to make better determinations about what they're really getting," Randall said. "Perhaps in the end we can boost the number of students who attend UW."

Student Regent Chris Semenas of UW-Parkside said financial aid and tuition policies should seek to further encourage students to stay enrolled beyond their freshman year.

"We can have students come for their freshman year, but their sophomore, junior and senior years are very important to get their degrees and provide income and revenue to our state," Semenas said. "That's not going to happen until we have fair tuition models and we have fair financial aid."

Regent Mark Bradley of Wausau said the Board must do more to explain the importance of financial aid to the public.

"I think it's time to discuss the amount of public funding committed to providing access to low-income students to one of the most fundamental institutions of democracy," Bradley said. "This is a moral obligation of the state of Wisconsin. I think most taxpayers would agree."

View a presentation on Tuition and Financial Aid Options [PDF]

Learn more about Wisconsin College Goal Sunday

Education Committee


Enrichment programs set a new standard for UW undergraduates

Enrollment at UW-Madison hasn't changed much in recent years, but a transformation of the university's learning environment over the past decade is building a smaller, more closely knit community for thousands of students, UW-Madison Interim Provost Virginia Sapiro told the Education Committee on Thursday.

Sapiro noted that four out of every five undergraduates at the university in 2004-05 were participating in some kind of experiential, academic enrichment program that gets them directly involved with faculty and staff. Those activities go above and beyond classroom instruction and include residential learning communities, undergraduate research initiatives, study-abroad and service learning projects, among others.

"We want every one of our students to have a challenging and enriching academic experience as an expected part of their undergraduate work," Sapiro said. "We're not looking at these as extras."

This transformation began in earnest in 1992, Sapiro says, with the advent of an elaborate campus advising network, which integrated academic and career advising across departments, colleges and schools.

Another major development was in learning communities, Sapiro says. Not in existence prior to 1992, the university now has six residential learning communities that enroll 1,436 students - more than 20 percent of all residence hall students. Their popularity has been extraordinary, growing from only 290 students in 1995 to their present numbers.

Learning communities integrate academic topics into the residence halls, giving students the opportunity to bond with faculty outside the classroom and build strong social networks with fellow students. Last year, 135 UW-Madison professors were part of a learning community, and 100 participated with no added compensation.

Learning community residents enjoy higher grade point averages, greater civic engagement and drink less alcohol on average than their peers, Sapiro says.

Undergraduate research has also quietly emerged as a major force in instruction, Sapiro says. The annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in April includes more than 250 presenters, and each one of those represents at least a yearlong collaboration between a student and instructor. In addition, more than 150 students each year receive $4,000 grants through the Hilldale undergraduate research and other funded programs.

Service learning has also soared since 1996, with the creation of Morgridge Center for Public Service, Sapiro says. This office coordinates civic engagement programs for the entire campus, offering a database of 900 volunteer programs run by more than 300 nonprofit groups in Wisconsin. It also coordinates an average of 80 service learning courses each semester and has funded, since 2000, more than 60 "Wisconsin Idea Fellowships" for unique undergraduate service projects.

Sapiro says these three initiatives account for the largest spike in enrichment-related programs. In the 2002-03 year, 6,107 undergraduates, or 69 percent overall, were involved in an enrichment program. That figure climbed to 80 percent, or 6,289, in 2004-05. Sapiro says the goal is 100 percent participation to reflect the essential nature of these programs to the future lives of students.

Other programs that feed into the enrichment figure include:

  • Studying abroad, an option pursued by 1,609 students in 2004-05, or 18 percent of all 6,289 undergraduates in 2004-05;
  • Total numbers of students taking honors courses (22 percent of all undergraduates) or seminars (35 percent of total);
  • Students pursuing independent study with a faculty member (46 percent of all students) or participation in fieldwork for academic credit (20 percent of total).

"Research shows us that student development and academic success hinges on becoming well-integrated into the university," Sapiro says. In fact, a recent Harvard University study found that the single greatest predictor of success for students is whether they developed a close relationship with a faculty member - an even stronger predictor than a student's economic or social demographic.

The "enrichment equation" plays against the stereotype of the undergraduate experience at major research universities, which is typically cast as anonymous and impersonal, Sapiro says. Involvement in these programs is becoming the new standard for student success, especially those at different ends of the academic spectrum.

"We know that these programs can help insure success for those who are academically vulnerable," she says, "but also help the academic high-fliers fly even higher."

The committee also considered on Thursday sabbatical assignments for faculty across the UW System. Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Cora Marrett reminded Regents that the sabbaticals program plays a vital role in maintaining the quality of UW institutions by renewing the teaching and scholarship of faculty. The programs are highly competitive, and are largely self-funded, she said. She added that faculty are required to produce reports following a sabbatical leave, and professors are eager to do so, having been energized by their work.

View a presentation on UW-Madison efforts [PDF]

- Brian Mattmiller contributed to this report.

UW-Madison Campus Master Plan offers a vision of the future

University of Wisconsin-Madison officials detailed a master plan on Thursday that will guide development of the UW-Madison campus for the next 20 years.

Alan Fish, associate vice chancellor of facilities, planning and management at UW-Madison, explained that, more than a year in the making, the plan lays out ways to make the campus more livable, workable and sustainable by examining existing and proposed buildings, outdoor spaces, transportation and utilities.

The plan was presented Thursday to a joint session of the Board of Regents' Business, Finance and Audit, and Physical Planning and Funding Committees. Fish specifically noted that the outline was not a budget with predicted costs, but a plan for future development.

The plan lays out an east campus mall from Lake Mendota to just north of Regent Street that will be the lively pedestrian spine of an arts and humanities district.

It also anticipates a more densely developed health sciences campus on the west side of campus. That area could include a west campus union and a new lakeshore residence hall development that would address a crucial on-campus housing need and create a green quadrangle with striking views of Lake Mendota.

Among the changes envisioned is creating the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in the 1200 and 1300 blocks of University Avenue and a more pedestrian-oriented Linden Drive.

One of the plan's top priorities is the creation and preservation of inviting outdoor spaces as compelling as the Memorial Union Terrace, Muir Knoll and Henry Mall.

"This is a community location, so we have to connect to that as well," Fish said.

The university included the community in an extensive planning process. There have been more than 200 meetings with hundreds of members of the public and interested groups as the plan evolved.

Planners also placed a high priority on the environment. The plan calls for opening up selected lakeshore views, protecting natural areas from development, decreasing stormwater erosion, using more "green" building materials and techniques, and improving mass transit opportunities.

As part of the joint session, Regents also learned about energy costs within the UW System, and ways campuses are working to reduce their expenditures on energy.

Associate Vice President Freda Harris reported that between 1999 and 2005, energy costs increased 68 percent. During that time, the state contributed about 74 percent of the increased costs, and non-state dollars contributed about 26 percent. However, Harris said that in 2005-07, the GPR allotment for energy costs will make up just 51 percent of the allotment. Tuition revenue will make up the remaining 49 percent.

The 2005-07 biennium begins a fundamental shift in the funding for UW energy costs increases. Historically, tuition revenue funded about 25 percent of the total increase. However, in the 2005-07 biennium, tuition revenue will fund about 90 percent of the increase, or $43 million.

View a presentation on the UW-Madison Campus Master Plan [PDF]

- Dennis Chaptman contributed to this report.

Business, Finance and Audit Committee


Regents review fixed-term contracts, tuition and fees

Al Crist, UW System assistant vice president for human resources, described for the Board how fixed-term contracts might be an option to establish employment terms with university leaders who join UW institutions from outside the university. Faculty and staff who might take leadership positions within the university would follow terms established under statute, said Pat Brady, UW System general counsel.

Crist said the university in finding alternative ways to establish employment terms, the Board should seek a balance between job security for employees and the flexibility that managers need to ensure proper campus operations.

Regent Pruitt wondered if fixed-term contracts would have any affects on compensation offered to university employees. "The jury's still out," Crist replied, but added that, at every level, UW salaries are well below those offered by peer institutions.

Chancellors told the committee that in their experience, Wisconsin is nationally known for providing low salaries, but that the state's reputation for educational excellence had, until recently, outweighed those concerns for prospective employees.

"I came here on faith," said UW-Whitewater Chancellor Martha Saunders. "If Wisconsin gives up on higher ed, the rest of the country might as well pack it up. I'm very hopeful that we'll resolve these recent troubles."

UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley reminded the committee that attention must also be given to compensation of academic staff, who support the faculty and students on campus. He added that employment policies should not "tie the hands" of university leaders only to deal with a few aberrant cases of misconduct.

"No university can run with faculty alone," Wiley said. "A university's quality rises and falls with the quality of its people."

Regents voted to ask campus chancellors for a recommendation about future employer-employee agreements in the UW System.

"We can create climate for change and lead change," said UW-River Falls Chancellor Don Betz.

Regent Eileen Connolly-Keesler, Regent audit liaison, and Ron Yates, UW System Director of Operations Review and Audit, led a committee discussion of the proposed review of segregated fees within the UW System. Yates provided background, policies, objectives, methodology and a timeline for such an audit.

The consensus of the committee was to not include differential tuition in such a review. Yates indicated that the review, which will take six months, will need to look not only at compliance, but also at the process that is followed by the campuses, UW System and the Board. The committee voted unanimously to approve the review as outlined in the scope document.

Trust Funds director Doug Hoerr provided the committee with a summary of the November Trust Funds Forum. He reported that the Board was in compliance with its investment policies. Regent Chuck Pruitt of Milwaukee indicated that he had received additional communication from the Wisconsin Divest from Israel Campaign which he would share with the Board.

In addition, Assistant Vice President for Budget and Planning Lynn Paulson provided background on differential tuition within the UW System. Regents, along with the chancellors in attendance, discussed the consistency of the process, the drivers of differential tuition, and how it impacts quality and access.

In other business, the committee:

  • Heard a presentation by UW-Madison, the host campus for the December meeting, on conflict of interest reporting;
  • Heard the report of the Vice President for Finance;
  • Discussed committee goals for 2005-06, with compensation and budgeting at the top of the list
  • Approved a three-year contract extension (with the option of an additional year) for UW-Whitewater's food contract with Chartwells through 2010. 

Physical Planning and Funding Committee

David Miller, assistant vice president for capital planning and budget, reported to the committee that the Building Commission approved approximately $66 million for projects at its recent meeting. Of that amount, $14.5 million will come from state-supported borrowing, $49 million will be revenue generated by programs, and $2.5 million will come from gift funds.

The Board on Friday will also consider several resolutions approved by the committee. The resolutions would:

  • Rename the UW-La Crosse Stadium the "Roger Harring Stadium" in recognition of Harring's distinguished career as one of the most successful football coaches in the history of NCAA Division III football. Harring served for 31 years as head football coach at UW-La Crosse;
  • Grant authority to construct a potato storage facility at the Hancock Agricultural Research Station under the terms of a land-use agreement and to accept the completed facility as a gift-in-kind;
  • Grant authority to amend an existing lease to increase the amount of space leased for the UW-Milwaukee Public Radio station, WUWM, at the Grand Avenue Mall;
  • Grant authority to increase the project budget for the UW-Platteville Dairy Center Improvement Project, due to recent price increases in fuel and building materials;
  • Grant authority to construct the Connor University Center Addition and Remodeling project, and to increase that project budget to provide for utility upgrades;
  • Grant authority to construct a maintenance and repair project to replace fire alarm systems in two residence halls on the UW-La Crosse campus;
  • Adopt Ranking Criteria for GPR Major Projects as the basis for prioritizing and categorizing state-supported major projects for inclusion in future UW System capital budget requests; and
  • Request that authority be granted for the Department of Administration to execute a lease for space to be used by UW-Stevens Point to temporarily locate university center functions during the renovation of the Lee Sherman Dreyfus University Center. 

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The Board of Regents will resume its December meeting at 9 a.m., Dec. 9, in Room 1820 of Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus.


Related: Read Dec 9 (day 2) news summary