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Gov. Evers proposes $305M boost for UW System in state budget proposal

Recommendations for new money include tuition waiver program for state residents

Golden light shines on Van Hise Hall
Van Hise Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus Friday, April 2, 2021, in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin’s state universities would see a significant funding boost under Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget proposal, with a portion of the money helping pay for a tuition waiver program aimed at students from lower income households. But if past budget battles with the Republican-controlled state Legislature are any guide, the final number for the system is unlikely to match the governor’s wishes.

On Wednesday, Evers proposed increasing UW System funding by nearly $306 million through the end of the 2023-25 biennial budget. University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman and the UW Board of Regents sought a total increase of $435 million in its state budget request. Still, Rothman praised the plan unveiled Wednesday evening.

“(Evers’) state budget provides needed investment for the UW System to help fulfill it’s mission on behalf of the people of Wisconsin,” Rothman tweeted.

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Within the Democratic governor’s recommendations for state universities is an additional $24.5 million to fund the UW’s Wisconsin Tuition Promise program, aimed at covering tuition and fees left over after financial aid for students from families with incomes below $62,000 per year. The UW System has committed to spending $13.8 million to fund initiative during the 2023-24 school year.

Absent from the budget proposal is any mention of a tuition freeze for undergraduate students from Wisconsin. That marks a contrast from Evers’ past budget proposals which extended the freeze first enacted by Republicans in 2013.

Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee eliminated the freeze in 2021, but warned the UW System they would take action if tuition was raised “in a tone deaf manner.”

Evers is also recommending the state spend $1 million in general purpose revenue during the 2023-24 fiscal year to fund a UW System study of the feasibility of creating a direct admission model. Direct admissions is a process where high school graduates can be automatically admitted to colleges without the need to apply.

The UW System is in the early stages of studying the idea, which is used in states like Minnesota, Idaho and Hawaii. This week, UW-Green Bay launched a direct admissions pilot program in collaboration with the Green Bay Area Public School District.

While Evers’ budget promises substantial funding increases for the UW System, Republican state lawmakers are almost certain to push back.

In his last budget proposal, Evers’ recommended an additional $191.5 million in general purpose revenue for state universities. Ultimately, Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a GPR increase of around $8 million.