A UW System task force is considering recommending that the Board of Regents allow UW System campuses to transition summer tuition to a pay-per-credit model.

Under a per-credit model, students would pay incrementally more for each credit they enroll in. Right now, students pay the same rate for six credits as they do as seven, eight and nine credits during the summer.

While the UW System Tuition Policy-Setting Task Force’s official report isn’t likely to be ready to present to the board until the end of the semester, Freda Harris, the UW System’s associate vice president for budget and planning, confirmed the task force is likely to recommend the per-credit tuition approach as a pilot program for up to two summers.

The task force’s original proposal would have asked to give all campuses the option to test the per-credit model for the regular academic year, but Noel Radomski, an associate researcher and the managing director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, said the task force may have taken a step back from that approach out of fear that it was too drastic a change.

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Radomski said there is a large push right now, in Wisconsin and across the country, to get students to graduate faster. If students graduate faster, Radomski said, they not only take out fewer loans and graduate with lower debt, but campuses can then enroll a greater number of students.

That was the initial appeal of the current plateau tuition model, Radomski said, where students pay the same rate when they enroll in between 12 and 18 credits.

But now, Radomski said, the task force is looking to push summer courses as an additional way to facilitate students graduating faster. Under the current tuition freeze, a trial would give the campuses greater flexibility and allow the UW System to collect valuable data about how a per-credit approach might influence student enrollment.

Radomski said the task force is considering restricting campuses to a revenue-neutral approach to ensure the proposal is intended to study how a shift to the per-credit model impacts summer course enrollment and not an attempt at squeezing out extra profit.

“I think the task force feared that the campuses … would then write additional revenue above and beyond the cost of instruction,” Radomski said.

This restriction would mean the UW System wouldn’t generate additional profit from summer instruction over the course of the model, Radomski said.

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Still, Radomski warned that a full transition to a pay-per-credit model, including the academic year, would not only impact revenue, but would impact the time it takes students to get a degree. He also said the ways in which a per-credit approach would impact high-income students compared to low-income students should be carefully considered.

But Patrick Guilfoile, provost and vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the only campus within the UW System to currently use a per-credit model, challenged the idea that the per-credit model necessarily impacts student enrollment.

Right now, he said, the data isn’t clear either way.

Guilfoile said for UW-Stout, a per-credit tuition model is easier for students to understand and is an advantage for any students taking less than a full course load of 15 credits. He said students pay for the number of credits they enroll in rather than the more expensive plateau rate.

But a lot has to happen for per-credit tuition to even be a possibility, Radomski said. Even if the Board of Regents approves the per-credit tuition model on a trial basis, Radomski said UW System campuses would have to approach the Board of Regents individually to get their campus proposal approved.