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 freezes not best solution to money woes

The University of Wisconsin won’t know what’s hitting it.

Oh sure, we know the economic crisis has the potential to gut us whole.

We understand, via Biddy Martin’s concerted effort to debate possible cuts, that we’ll end up having to hack off our own limbs to save the whole body.


But for a university that maintains dependence — at least partially — on the state Legislature, the proposed budget will likely result in mass panic when those hiding from the storms of the job market find their academic shelter destroyed by an economic tsunami. And while we’re certainly preparing for the worst, there’s one thing that could devastate UW if we’re not careful.


It is our constant lifesaver — whenever gifts, grants and funding dry up, tuition becomes the last resort in keeping a university in the academic pantheon.

But with election of Barack Obama and the increasing grassroots movement determined to make the voices of those student voters heard, tuition increases are being directly targeted. College is already becoming unaffordable, and for a society that believes you can only succeed with that sort of an education, lack of access is a dangerous thing.

Ask Chynna Haas, founder of the Working Class Student Union, who took the “Day of Action” demonstration as an opportunity to voice her (and plenty of other students’) demand for a tuition freeze or accompanying dollar-for-dollar increase in financial aid.

And voices like hers have been heard.

In another state. By someone with a lot more power.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has essentially dangled a stick and carrot in front of Michigan’s public universities: Either freeze your tuition or lose financial aid and funding.

Granholm’s predicament isn’t without merit. Many in Michigan have seen public tuition skyrocket without any real effort by Michigan’s colleges to curtail their costs and think this “do or die” move will force the universities to rethink their programs and finances in more fiscally responsible ways.

But thinking absolutely about tuition becomes problematic when you are unsure of what the rest of your financial outlook is like. The universities are uncertain what to do about Granholm’s plan because they’re unsure what they’ll actually receive at the end of the day. Granholm has indicated that colleges will be given incentives to freeze tuition, but in a state where the main employers are facing virtual extinction in the near future and could take the state’s tax revenue further into the depths, you have to assume the state’s Legislature couldn’t offer much. Especially when it’s been offering state schools less each passing year.

For schools such as the University of Michigan, this probably wouldn’t normally be much of an issue. Most of their funding comes from private sources and federal funding for research projects, so if they were to take a hit from the state Legislature, the “U” could sustain the hit. Especially after such a successful fundraising drive.

But not during these times. Michigan’s endowment took a massive hit as a result of the financial crisis — not in any small part due to the fact that a great deal was invested in the Detroit automakers. They might actually need everything they can get in the way of funding. Which means ultimatums might force them into a corner too and make this world-class institution slump for a year or two. Or three.

But of course, Granholm’s idea probably won’t migrate over Lake Michigan. Martin has made it clear that tuition must be raised significantly, and our tuition-to-quality ratio almost necessitates an increase to take the strain off of certain departments.

But it’s been suggested before by Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol. And it may get suggested again.

But more importantly, it brings the debate over accessibility versus quality to a fever pitch. Last year, I spent a few days deciding whether or not UW should prioritize quality over accessibility and decided (in “UW can have cake, eat it too”) that UW-Madison was in a position where it can reach both goals.

But that was before our state — and nation, for that matter — stood on the brink of collapse. The issue of affordability is no longer just about working-class students who are historically prevented from higher education by rising costs — it now becomes about whether the majority of future generations will be classed out of a proper education and reduce most of this country to manual labor. And when that apocalyptic scenario becomes even somewhat feasible, it makes it very hard to hold on to every bit of academic performance that makes us a world-class institution.

But it’s about panic for the time being. If the Legislature can keep its paws off tuition, this scenario won’t come about.

But then again, these are strange times.

Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and journalism.

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