, , , ,

UW System President Jay Rothman to seek in-state tuition increase

If approved, it would be the first time UW in-state tuition has gone up at some campuses in more than a decade

A man looks to the side as he speaks into a microphone.
UW System President Jay Rothman speaks Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022 during the UW System Board of Regents meeting at UW-Green Bay. Angela Major/WPR

University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman will seek the first tuition increase for Wisconsin undergraduate students since state lawmakers initiated a freeze more than a decade ago. Rothman will ask the UW Board of Regents to approve a 5 percent increase during their meeting later this month.

During a presentation to the State Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee Thursday, Rothman said the proposed increase is needed to safeguard “the long term financial viability of our universities and to sustain the quality of education” in light of rising costs and a tuition freeze mandated by lawmakers more than a year ago.

“This modest tuition increase will help our universities continue to provide students with a world-class education, produce the talent that Wisconsin’s workforce needs to succeed and spark innovation and vitality in our communities,” Rothman said.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Tuition at UW System’s four-year universities was frozen by Republican lawmakers as part of the 2013-15 state budget after a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed $648 million in reserve funds, most of which came from unspent tuition.

Tuition at UW System’s two-year universities has been frozen for much of the past 16 years.

The authority to set in-state tuition was returned to regents in 2021. The board has discussed a need for revenues for colleges since then but hasn’t voted to increase tuition amid warnings from some GOP lawmakers.

Rothman told the committee he estimates the 5 percent increase, which would start during the 2023-24 academic year, would yield around $38 million in revenue for the UW System annually.

Rothman’s announcement comes as chair of the Universities Committee, State Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, is circulating a bill to tie future tuition increases to the rate of inflation.

In an email to fellow legislators, Murphy said his bill is necessary “to prevent tuition from skyrocketing after the current freeze.”

“Under the bill, if the non-statutory freeze expires, the Board of Regents may only increase tuition and fees for resident undergraduate students up to the rate of Consumer Price Index (CPI-U),” Murphy’s email said. “This would set a ceiling on annual tuition and fee increases, permitting the board to set tuition and fees at any rate below this level.”

After Rothman’s announcement Thursday, Murphy said when he introduced his bill, he “didn’t really anticipate that that 5 percent was going to be under the rate of inflation.”

“I didn’t realize that the current administration was going to have policies that were going to inflate the currency that dramatically,” Murphy said.

The CPI, as of Feb. 14, was 6.4 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Still, Murphy asked Rothman if he supported capping in-state tuition increases at the rate of inflation. Rothman didn’t answer the question outright, but said because the increase he’s proposing is under the current CPI, state colleges and universities will have to find ways to cut costs even with new revenue.

In his biennial state budget proposal, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed increasing UW System funding by nearly $306 million. Evers opted against including a tuition freeze in the budget, as he has done in past funding cycles. When asked why by reporters, Evers said he didn’t expect regents to increase residential tuition in light of the funding boost his budget recommends.