OSHKOSH—Three University of Wisconsin System campuses presented formal proposals to the UW Board of Regents Thursday (October 9) to pilot programs to address the state’s brain gain problem by attracting the offspring of their alumni back to Wisconsin.

UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse and UW-Oshkosh presented proposals to the board’s Business and Finance Committee to offer a discount in out-of-state tuition to the children and grandchildren of their alumni who live outside of Wisconsin and Minnesota. (Because of reciprocity agreements, Minnesota residents pay in-state tuition at Minnesota rates to attend UW System campuses.)

The campuses reported a two-fold purpose to the new programs: to entice students with Wisconsin ties to come back for college and stay to pursue their careers in Wisconsin, and to prop up their falling nonresident enrollments.

“We are very excited about this program,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Donald Mash. “This pilot program will be a ‘win-win-win’ situation for our campuses, our communities and the state.”

Mash added that Wisconsin ranks 48th in the nation in importing college graduates into its workforce. “This program can help us bring folks who already have ties to Wisconsin into the state early so they will put down roots and stay here to work. It’s a way to ‘grow our own.’”

Mash also noted the program’s importance from an educational standpoint. “It is very valuable for our in-state students to go to school and form friendships with students from other parts of the country who have had other kinds of experiences growing up,” he said.

The regents approved the pilot program in concept in June 2002 as one of several strategies to build the university’s resource base using non-state tax funds during a time of declining state general purpose revenue (GPR) support.

At the committee meeting, regent members decided to open the pilot program to any UW campus that desires to participate, giving those schools until next month’s meeting to present their proposals. UW-Madison has already indicated that it will not participate in the program.

Deborah A. Durcan, UW System vice president for finance, emphasized that any new students attracted by these programs would not take spaces away from resident students. They would be added on top of the UW System enrollment targets of participating campuses.

She also noted that the program eventually could help the UW System maintain and improve access for resident students because the “Return to Wisconsin” students would be paying more than the cost of their education and would help subsidize resident students, who pay only about half the cost of their education in tuition.

Recent dramatic increases in out-of-state tuition—now more than $13,000 per year at UW comprehensive, or master’s level, campuses—have had a chilling effect on out-of-state enrollments throughout the UW System, Durcan said. Last year alone, she said, the drop in nonresident enrollment cost the university nearly $5 million in tuition revenue.

UW-Eau Claire’s nonresident enrollment is now less than one percent, Mash noted.

Chancellor Richard Wells of UW-Oshkosh has seen his school’s out-of-state enrollment drop nearly 25 percent and he attributes the trend to the steep tuition increases. “In Fall 2000, we had 231 nonresident undergraduate students. Three years later, we have dropped to 168 students out of an enrollment of more than 11,000 students,” Wells said.

“We see this new program as a real plus for our in-state students as well—it will help us maintain access and we intend to reinvest the dollars we earn from this program in need-based financial aid,” Wells added. “We’ve talked to some of our alumni about this pilot and they are very enthused. It’s worth trying just for the message it sends to our alumni around the country—Wisconsin cares about you and we want your sons and daughters to come back and be a part of this state.”

The new programs will help the campuses financially as well, added Eau Claire’s Mash: “The substantial state budget cuts we are dealing with, while keeping our in-state enrollments level, are forcing us to be more aggressive and creative with respect to how we fund our enterprise.”

Eligible students would have to meet all academic standards for admission to the university and could not displace resident students. If the program were in effect this year, these students would have paid $10,160 in nonresident tuition versus the normal rate of $13,546. The Board is expected to set 2004-05 tuition rates in June.

The pilot program will enable the regents and system officials to gather information on its effectiveness and determine whether it would be feasible to expand it to other campuses, Durcan said.

The Board will make a decision whether to move forward with the program at its November meeting. If approved, participating campuses would implement the program in Fall 2004.


Background information on the proposed “Return to Wisconsin” program can be found online in the October Board of Regents agenda at http://www.uwsa.edu/bor/index.htm.

Related news release: UW System “Legacy Scholars Program”

Media Contact

Erik Christianson UW System 608-262-5061