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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

With some hesitation, UW regents extend tuition freeze for 10th year

Resident undergraduate tuition will remain frozen at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and other UW schools.
Emily Files
Resident undergraduate tuition will remain frozen at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and other UW schools.

Tuition will be frozen for in-state undergraduates at UW System schools for the tenth year in a row. The UW Board of Regents voted somewhat reluctantly Thursday to extend the tuition freeze in the upcoming school year.

The tuition freeze was put in place in 2013 by state legislators upset with the university system’s hefty reserves.

Republicans in the state Legislature lifted the tuition freeze last year, giving back tuition-setting power to the board of regents. But as concerns about college affordability continue, the regents kept tuition frozen last school year.

The board is extending the freeze again in the upcoming school year, thanks to $25 million in federal pandemic aid from Gov. Evers, which is helping to “fund the freeze.”

New UW System President Jay Rothman said with tuition, fees, and room and board combined, resident undergraduate students will only see a slight increase in costs.

"The overall cost for attendance for resident undergraduates at our four-year institutions will increase by 1.7% or $273," Rothman said. "We continue to do our best to keep costs down, but we know we are facing inflationary headwinds."

The freeze keeps in-state tuition at $9,273 per semester at UW-Madison and $8,091 per semester at UW-Milwaukee.

Some on the board of regents indicated they don’t want to continue the freeze much longer, since tuition is a major source of income for schools.

"Students don’t want to attend schools that have buildings in dire need of repair, where we lose great professors who flee the state to earn market wages, or where cutting-edge research is being performed in labs that looks like somebody’s garage," said Regent John Miller. "Freezing tuition is sold to us as benefitting the students, but depriving the campuses of this revenue only hurts the students by compromising their experience."

UW campuses have struggled with frozen tuition revenue, declining enrollment, and stagnant state funding.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone gave a presentation to the regents Thursday, where he said his school’s status as a Tier 1 research institution is “imperiled," partly because Milwaukee isn't able to pay competitive wages.

>>Report: Financial Challenges Put UWM's Research and Access Missions At Risk

"When I go to national conferences, they’ll say what a great recruiting ground Madison and Milwaukee are for our top faculty because of pay," Mone said. "I’ve had more apologies, from University of Massachusetts-Lowell — I could go down the list — it’s just sad."

Mone’s message resonated with some on the board, who seemed willing to re-examine how the system distributes funding among UW campuses. Regent Ashok Rai noted UWM is both a high-level research institution, and a school serving many underrepresented minority students.

"If we truly believe in the strategic initiative of an R1 school that is also an access school and the uniqueness of it, our budgetary comments must reflect that," Rai said. "And that’s not an easy comment to make, because the pie has shrunk, and it does mean it’s a redistribution of assets."

But with the limited funding available to the UW System, Regent President Edmund Manydeeds cautioned against taking away from one campus to elevate another. He said the regents need to advocate the state Legislature for more funding for all campuses.

That discussion may continue in future meetings.

Editor's note: WUWM is a service of UW-Milwaukee.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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