BEN CLASSON/Herald photo

Students expressed their disapproval Tuesday of a proposed $700 semester tuition increase for the University of Wisconsin's College of Engineering.

Confronted with a barrage of skepticism, Dean Paul Peercy defended the increase — which could be implemented as soon as April's Board of Regents meeting — saying the College of Engineering is facing a $1,000-per-student deficit.

"We began discussion with associate deans well over two years ago," Peercy said. "I discussed the issue with the provost and the vice chancellor and they agreed we should proceed and come up with a recommendation."

Along with the $700-per-semester tuition increase, Peercy said alumni and other benefactors' donations would alleviate the College of Engineering's deficit.

When asked what role the upcoming April 11 meeting of Polygon — the College of Engineering's student government organization — would play in the decision, Peercy said it would only be a recommendation.

"Ultimately, the decision is the Board of Regents', but I want to make sure you understand the situation," Peercy said. "We're not alone in this situation. One way to think about it is engineering is a profession."

Since its students are considered professionals upon graduation, Peercy said the undergraduate program should be compared to the UW Law School, which already charges a differential tuition.

Students expressed concern Tuesday that potential engineering majors would attempt to avoid the higher tuition by not declaring the major until very late in their academic careers.

However, according to Steve Cramer, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering, limits are already in place to prevent the issue.

Since the main reason for the tuition hike is a decrease in state funding, Cramer said the College of Engineering has been forced to cut faculty and administration to save money.

"You have to chop your leg off to feed yourself," Cramer said. "You can only do that for so long."

Faced with a 10-percent drop in the number of faculty, Peercy said the College of Engineering "can't afford to hire all of those back."

However, he added, the college does "want to hire back in areas that we have real bottlenecks."

Andy Severance, vice president of the Triangle Fraternity, a College of Engineering professional society, said the large showing of concerned students sent a message to UW administrators.

"I really think that they were finally challenged," Severance said. "I don't think they were met with this before."

UW senior and mechanical engineering student Phil Mauermann said rumors have been circulating since September that tuition may rise, and added that the discussion was long awaited.

"I was really impressed with the number of questions and some of the preparation a lot of the students had done to come to this meeting," Mauermann said. "I do have some concern that it seems like [the] student vote won't impact the overall decision; it sounds to me like Dean Peercy wasn't really interested. … He seemed to shy away from questions."