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Chancellor Biddy Martin makes a presentation at a forum on her proposed undergraduate initiative.[/media-credit]

University of Wisconsin students expressed both concern and support Thursday at the first of two campus forums on Chancellor Biddy Martin’s Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, which would increase tuition, financial aid and academic services for students.

The forum focused on student perspectives with prominent issues being the transparency of initiative fund spending, how students are supposed to pay the tuition increase and the voice of students in the spending process.

The initiative is focused on adding faculty to the College of Letters and Science, which has lost 65 to 70 professors since 2004, Martin said.

Martin added half of the initiative funds will be used to increase need-based financial aid, which UW currently ranks last in the Big Ten for providing, and the other half will be used to enhance undergraduate education.

UW sophomore and journalism major George Mayer was skeptical of the initiative fund spending, asking whether or not funds would be used to supplement any of the projected state funding cuts to UW brought on by the difficult economic times.

Martin responded that no initiative funds would be used to offset any state funding cuts for UW, as the two increases are completely separate.

Several students at the forum were concerned about undergraduates whose families make more than $80,000 per year but must pay for tuition partially or fully on their own.

Under the initiative, students with demonstrated need whose families make less than $80,000 would be given a grant to offset the tuition increase.

“We would have to look at those situations on a case-by-case basis, but the short answer is that those students need to look at claiming themselves as independents or looking for financial aid opportunities,” Martin said.

Michelle Trunk, a UW junior majoring in chemical engineering, said she was concerned that the initiative’s tuition hike would add on to the preexisting higher tuition of engineering and business majors.

She asked how they would benefit from the initiative when they have already begun an increase in tuition of $1,400 that will be distributed over a three-year period and pay for the upgrade of outdated technology in labs.

“I feel like we’re being double-dipped for money when we already are paying more than other undergraduates,” Trunk said.

Not all students were upset by the tuition increase. UW freshman Abigail Solom was undaunted at facing the initiative.

“I think adding faculty and trying to improve our academic and career services will only open up more classes and majors for undergraduates that need them,” Solom said.

The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates would increase in-state tuition by $250 and out-of-state tuition by $750 per year over a four-year period, after which rates will top out at $1,000 and $3,000, respectively, more than current rates.

“I want to assure all of you, that for every dollar we take in during this initiative, we absolutely commit to matching dollar for dollar in private funding,” Martin said.