(AP) — Tuition will rise sharply for the next four years for most University of Wisconsin-Madison students under a plan approved Friday to improve quality at the state’s flagship university.
The UW System Board of Regents approved Chancellor Biddy Martin’s plan to add a tuition surcharge of $250 next fall for in-state undergraduates and $750 for students from other states.
The surcharges will rise by $250 and $750 each of the following three years until they are $1,000 for Wisconsin residents and $3,000 for nonresidents in the 2012-2013 school year. The charges are on top of statewide tuition increases, which are expected to be about 5.5 percent in the next two years.
Students from families with incomes of less than $80,000, about 6,100 of the current 27,325 undergraduates, will receive grants to cover the surcharges.
Martin, who was named chancellor last year, said the plan “will help preserve the long-term value of a UW-Madison degree.”
Unveiled in late March, her plan will generate $100 million in the first four years and $40 million each year after that to provide more classes, improve student services and increase need-based financial aid. The money is expected to pay for 235 faculty and staff.
Departments said the revenue will allow them to add classes in high-demand subjects such as chemistry, biology, math and expand majors like Spanish, education and political science. The goal will be to help students to graduate faster and take prerequisites in the right order.
Details on spending for student services remain somewhat unclear, but the university says money will be used on things like academic and career advising, tutoring, and programs to help freshmen adjust to campus life.
About $10 million every year will go to need-based financial aid, and Martin has promised to double that with private donations. The money should increase the school’s relatively low amount of need-based aid and make it more affordable to low-income students.
UW-Madison tuition and fees total $7,564 this year for in-state students and $21,814 for nonresidents. Even after the increases are implemented, Martin pledged Wisconsin’s tuition would be in the bottom half among Big Ten schools. Right now, it is second lowest behind Iowa.
Meeting at UW-Milwaukee, the 18-member Board of Regents overwhelmingly approved the plan on a voice vote after hearing from five students in favor and one against it.
“We’re making an investment here in tough times,” said Regent Tom Loftus of Sun Prairie.
He credited Martin, formerly the provost at Cornell University, with carrying out “a magnificent political and public campaign” to sell the plan to lawmakers and alumni.
UW-Madison junior Chynna Haas said the plan will increase economic diversity by allowing more low-income students to attend. She said working-class families struggling in the recession won’t have to pay the higher rates.
But other critics warned that “sticker shock” could drive away some students, particularly those who are just above the $80,000 income cutoff.
Jonah Zinn, a student leader, said he doubted the plan would meet its goals and was unfair to incoming freshmen who had no input but will be stuck with the bill.
“Given this economic climate, it seems ridiculous we would have any students or families pay more for higher education,” he told the regents.
Regent Jeffrey Bartell of Madison said he supported the plan because the revenue will be put to good use. But he said he was worried other campuses will follow suit in raising tuition, which would take the pressure off lawmakers to give the universities adequate funding.
Regent Colleene Thomas, a UW-Madison graduate student, said she shared that concern but was confident the plan “will respond to some of the most urgent needs on campus.”
“I think it will improve morale a lot and then expand the quality and vigor with which we pursue undergraduate education,” she said. “It’s a terrible time to put this additional cost onto our families, but it will also really benefit the university in ways it might not have a few years ago.”
Martin’s statement on the passage, from University Communications:
“I want to thank President Reilly and the Board of Regents for the vision and commitment they have shown in embracing a plan that will improve the quality of the undergraduate experience at UW-Madison while boosting need-based financial aid for our students. The most recent news about the state’s budget makes it even more important that we build need-based aid and ensure quality.
“We have received tremendous support from students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the community who recognize the long-term benefits that this initiative provides. I am deeply thankful for their backing.
“We pledge to deliver value. We’ll do this by providing more faculty and instructional support in high-demand areas, classroom innovations and better student-support services.
“The initiative will allow fuller access to high-demand courses and majors and help our students graduate in a timely fashion. It will help preserve the long-term value of a UW-Madison degree.
“This initiative puts us on track to build a need-based financial aid fund and help meet students’ demonstrated financial need. In addition to the tuition dollars we will use to build our need-based financial aid fund, we will raise private gifts. Moreover, students with demonstrated need from families earning $80,000 or less will be held harmless from this Madison-specific increase for each of the four years the initiative lasts.
“Our commitment to quality and affordability will keep us in the bottom half of the Big Ten in tuition, even after the initiative is fully implemented. It will also ensure that our quality remains at the top and our students’ degrees retain their value.”