Legislators from both parties have reacted positively to including a tuition cap in the state’s biennial budget, a measure University of Wisconsin System officials said may not be necessary.
Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, which includes a $181 million investment in the UW System, removed the previous 5.5 percent cap on tuition increases. Without a cap, the Board of Regents could technically raise tuition above that, so United Council of UW Students is pushing for a cap of 3 or 4 percent.
United Council held a news conference Monday at the Capitol pushing for a tuition cap and talking to around 40 legislative offices about it, the group’s government relations director, Dylan Jambrek, said. He said legislators from both parties have been either supportive or have not taken a stance.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said Tuesday they would support a tuition cap.
Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, the chair of the Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee, also supports a tuition cap of about 3 or 4 percent, his spokesperson said Thursday.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, who sits on the Legislature’s budget committee, supports not just a cap, but a freeze, or no increase in tuition.
“We’re happy to see that providing tuition certainty to students isn’t a partisan issue,” Jambrek said.
UW System spokesperson David Giroux said students will likely see a “very modest” tuition increase if Walker’s proposed $181 million investments go through. That amount is a large contrast from the more than $300 million in cuts the UW System took over the past two years.
That contrast “negates” the need for a cap, Giroux said. Student Regent Katie Pointer, a UW junior, agreed. Although student groups note without a cap, tuition has risen by 15 percent, Pointer said those “incredibly high” increases would not happen.
“We’re all on the same side that we’re not going to raise tuition in an extreme amount — or hopefully not at all,” Pointer said.
Pointer said although there are positives to having a tuition cap, there are also there “dangers,” such as setting a cap at an amount higher than regents intend to raise tuition by and leading them to consider an increase at that cap.
The Board of Regents will decide in their meetings this June whether or not and by how much tuition will increase next year.
The regents will be focused on keeping college affordable, Giroux said, but they will also consider fixing below-average faculty salaries. UW System President Kevin Reilly has said he would like to make the system more competitive in that aspect, as its faculty salaries are currently 18 percent below the national average.
Pointer also said ignoring that problem would harm quality, noting popular professors have left the UW System for better offers. She said, however, regents will likely not increase tuition solely to pay more for faculty and will instead find other ways to pay for faculty pay increases.
“I don’t think students are going to want to continue to pay for a world-class education if they don’t have world-class faculty teaching them,” Pointer said.