MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will devote a one-day meeting next week to broad discussions about the future of public higher education. As part of the System’s strategic planning process, Regents will review tuition and financial aid policies and discuss the mission of System’s 13 freshman-sophomore UW Colleges. No action will be taken on either item.
“We remain committed to the Growth Agenda for Wisconsin—our plan to produce more college-educated residents and stimulate the success of home-grown businesses to employ those graduates,” explained UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. “To achieve those goals, we and the Regents must have a shared understanding of how various approaches to tuition and financial aid might help preserve high levels of access, affordability and educational quality.”
“Similarly, we must ensure that our UW System institutions are leveraging their resources and educational expertise in the most effective ways possible to create an economically vibrant state,” said Reilly. “That might entail looking at new ways that the UW Colleges might address the emerging educational needs of our changing population.”
Tuition and Financial Aid Policy
In May 2007, Reilly appointed an advisory group to analyze various approaches to tuition and financial aid policy. The Regents will review that group’s report, which covers a wide range of tuition models, including some that have been implemented in Wisconsin.
UW System tuition for resident undergraduate students is currently $1,000 to $2,000 below that of peer four-year universities in other states, and Wisconsin ranks as the 10th most affordable state for access to four-year colleges. Along with low tuition, however, Wisconsin also provides relatively low levels of financial aid. Recognizing that modest financial support might deter students with limited resources from pursuing a college education, the report calls for additional investments in need-based financial aid.
“In the state capitol and at kitchen tables across Wisconsin, there is growing interest in creative ways to make college more affordable for working families. If we’re going to succeed as a state in producing and attracting more college graduates, this is a key piece of the puzzle,” said Reilly. “The Wisconsin Covenant, bolstered by a $40 million grant from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, is a move in the right direction, and the $175 million financial aid endowment from John and Tashia Morgridge sends a very, very positive signal to college-bound students.”
Among other tuition strategies, the advisory group’s report addressed “differential tuition” – a mechanism for charging incrementally higher tuition for certain campuses or academic programs to offset specific costs for new initiatives or student services. In recent years, students have generally supported this approach. By rule, students are consulted extensively on the creation and implementation of differential tuition plans, and how new revenues are spent.
The UW System work group recommended that all differential tuition plans be subject to regular review to confirm that funds are being spent as originally proposed.
Next week’s meeting is also expected to include a discussion of “tuition stratification” – the practice of holding down tuition increases at some UW System institutions while allowing others to increase at slightly higher rates. An example of this approach came in 2007, when the Regents froze tuition at the 13 UW Colleges, to preserve an affordable point of entry to the UW System and ensure that the two-year campuses remained competitively priced compared to other two-year schools.
Mission of the UW Colleges
In December 2006, UW Colleges/UW-Extension Chancellor David Wilson appointed a special commission to address ways to improve upon the historic liberal arts mission of the 13 freshman-sophomore campuses. Five specific recommendations emerged from that process. In October 2007, Reilly asked a UW System Committee to analyze the system-wide implications of those five strategies being considered by the UW Colleges, and how those strategies might help increase the number of baccalaureate-degree graduates in Wisconsin.
The Regents next week will discuss considerations that should be addressed if the UW Colleges pursue any of the strategies identified by Wilson’s commission. That discussion is expected to focus on two ideas: whether the UW Colleges might pursue limited authority to offer a unique, highly targeted baccalaureate degree, and how the UW Colleges might offer more courses and degree programs in under-served areas of northern Wisconsin.
For more information about the Board of Regents meeting, including links to live streaming video and audio coverage, see www.wisconsin.edu.