University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously passed a resolution Friday that would lift the tuition freeze, increasing it based on the annual consumer price index after the 2018-19 academic year.

The resolution is part of the UW System’s efforts to address college affordability in the state. Board of Regents President Regina Milner said with the resolution, tuition will rise no more than the yearly consumer price index so that tuition can keep up with other costs of living that students face.

The resolution, however, does extend a tuition freeze for fifth-year in-state undergraduate students after the 2017-18 academic year.

These measures can only be adopted if Gov. Scott Walker and the state legislature approve them in the 2017-’19 biennial budget.

Milner said the tuition freeze has been helpful during the four years that it has been in place but is not a long-term solution. She said making up costs once the freeze is over could substantially drive up costs for students and lower the quality of UW System education. 

“The tuition freeze was good for the short term but it does not equal affordability,” Milner said. “Good intentions can lead to unintentional consequences.”

The tuition freeze can also lead to an increase in class sizes, which can compromise quality of education. Cross said this could keep top notch faculty and staff away from UW System.

The resolution also includes a year of flat tuition — essentially a tuition freeze — for in-state undergraduate students taking a fifth year after the 2017-18 academic year.

Regent Tracey Klein warned against tuition dropping too low, which could lead to students taking more time to graduate. 

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UW System President Ray Cross said tuition is only one of five underlying aspects of college affordability, including time to graduation, cost of educational experience, financial aid and state funding or general program revenue.

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“When we talk about affordability, tuition is the first thing mentioned but that’s only a piece of it,” Cross said. “I don’t want to diminish the importance of this but let’s not get tuition tunnel vision.”

The resolution also looks to address these four other factors. Time to graduation is a particularly important aspect as delayed graduation can increase costs significantly for students, Cross said. Staying just one extra semester can run costs of up to $52,000, which includes lost earning potential and costs to stay in school.

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Cross said the resolution will tie in with the 2020FWD plan to address time to graduation. This will include expanding options to obtain and transfer college credits for high school students. The 2020FWD framework is part of the Board of Regents’ efforts to stimulate Wisconsin’s economy and keep UW System graduates in the state.

UW System has not been granted an increase in financial aid in the last seven years. To address this, Board of Regents also requested a $19 million increase in financial aid in the 2017-19 budget.