Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Tuition tweaks merit examination

When your kids are combing through a mountain of college
brochures, you’ll probably find one for University of Wisconsin and coyly slide
it atop the pile. Might your son or daughter reply, “Yeah, I could do
political science there, but I can’t afford the Business School?”

As the UW System Board of Regents considers an expanded
differential tuition policy, a broad discussion of its potential long-term
implications has been noticeably lacking.

Let’s face it: Wisconsin’s budget situation isn’t getting
any better, and the state’s financial commitment to UW will likely decrease in
the future, especially if a Steve Nass-brand Republican wins the governor’s
office. If the state deficit continues to spiral out of control, we might have
some first-class majors for everyone who can pay up or win scholarships and
underfunded shoestring programs for the rest.


At current levels, differential tuition isn’t enough to
deter a student from picking a certain major ? its only $500 extra for the Business
School. But the trends that forced the adoption of this policy at UW will
almost certainly continue. Underscored by the governor’s call for special a
legislative session Wednesday night to discuss a $427 million budget shortfall,
the state simply won’t be able to contribute enough for UW to keep up with
other top institutions in terms of faculty and infrastructure for the foreseeable
future. The money needs to come from somewhere, and private donations won’t cut

Due to the low political inertia for moving toward a high-tuition,
high-financial-aid model combined with the specter of expanding differential
tuition rates, a worst-case scenario for UW students looms large: A caste-like
system in which only select students can afford to take expensive majors such
as engineering or business.

The beauty of a large university is that it levels the
playing field, ignoring the inequities of the outside world. A meritocracy
elevates talented students to the top while the lazy and disinterested usually
drink four years away (of course, the truly talented manage to do both).
Nonetheless, this is the real world. Although nepotism denies an equal shot in
the real world for those with similar grades, a transcript depicts intellectual
fortitude with some measure of objectivity: By our best estimation, here is how
good you are at whatever you’re interested in.

The colleges with differential tuition policies offer
generous grants to students who cannot afford the additional cost, but a
familiar theme in the American educational system will be revisited if the
practice expands. Those toward the bottom of the middle class whose parents
aren’t able to subsidize their collegiate education will largely be left out.
That means longer hours at outside jobs and the inability to accept low-paying
or unpaid internships that break young people into the field of their choosing.

Differential tuition certainly resolves short-term funding
gaps, but we can’t be blind to the long-term repercussions either. The merits
of forcing programs at a public institution to live within the means of the
state’s economic situation are undeniable. It’s easy to imagine a columnist on
this page, one decade from now, lamenting the unnecessary excess of departments
given the right to charge certain students more many years ago. These
complaints will likely result in irrational reactionary political action
whenever Wisconsin’s budget situation has finally stabilized.

Before the regents dive headfirst into a wholesale change in
tuition policy, each UW campus must carefully assess the long-term political
risks of this strategy. If the affected programs and the low-tuition, low-aid
model aren’t facing eventual collapse, the best answer for students and the
state may be to batten the hatches and cut extra weight until the budgetary
storm finally passes.


Bassey Etim ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in
political science and journalism.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *