Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Wisconsin Lawmakers Extend UW Tuition Freeze

Ann Althouse

Students in the UW System wouldn’t have to worry about a tuition hike in the next two years, under a spending plan the legislature’s Joint Finance committee approved Thursday. The panel voted along party lines, to continue a freeze that’s been in place the past four years. However, Republicans did not control costs as much as Gov. Walker hoped they would.

The biennial budget Gov. Walker proposed earlier this year, called for extending the UW System tuition freeze for one year, then cutting tuition by 5 percent the second year. Republicans on Joint Finance gathered before their meeting Thursday and decided to reject Walker’s idea and instead, keep tuition at current levels. Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls argued the tuition freeze alone, is doing enough to keep down students' costs.

“Wisconsin has had a long tradition of keeping tuition affordable. We are nearly $2,000.00 less in the cost of tuition than our neighboring state to the west, which I happen to live very closely to,” Harsdorf says.

Yet Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee argued against extending the tuition freeze for two years -- saying it actually would hurt students. She complained about Walker slashing the UW System budget over the years, and said the extension would result in even less money flowing to campuses.

“The motion that you’re doing cuts dollars directly to the classroom. It cuts access and in the end what that means, is that students will pay more, they’ll pay more because they’re going to have to be in school longer, courses will not be offered in the same rotation that they could if they’re losing professors, this is a huge challenge,” Taylor says.

Democrats offered an amendment that would have poured an additional $500,000,000 into the UW System. Representative Gordon Hintz insisted the commitment would pay off, and warned that without the investment, Wisconsin could lose its competitive edge.

“If we keep diminishing our investment in the UW System, we’ll eventually reach a point where we aren’t in the top ten, we aren’t in the top twenty, where our population isn’t going to be competitive, where people don’t want to move to a state like ours,” Hintz says.

The Democrats' motion failed. Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski touted statistics that she says prove the university system is doing a good job serving students. She read from an email the UW-Eau Claire chancellor’s office sent lawmakers, sharing results of a recent graduate placement survey.

“The highlights of the report include a 96.36 percent placement rate, with 81 percent employed and 15 percent continued education. The average salary for the class of 2016 is $48,455.00. a 12 percent increase from last year. I don’t think that’s really failing our graduates or our students,” Felzkowski says.

Although the panel rejected Gov. Walker's plan to freeze -- then cut -- tuition, he says he’s okay with the lawmakers' decision. But one Republican legislator says he’ll vote against the budget on the Senate floor, unless it contains Walker’s original proposal. The full legislature will have the final say on the two-year spending plan. Lawmakers are expected to vote by the end of June.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.