UW System leader will ask regents for 5% tuition increase
University of Wisconsin System students would face a 5% tuition increase next year under a plan the system's president, Jay Rothman, unveiled Thursday.
Rothman told the state Assembly's universities committee that he will ask the Board of Regents at its April meeting to approve the increase for the 2023-2024 academic year. If approved, the increase would mark the first time in a decade that tuition for in-state undergraduates has changed.
Rothman estimated that the tuition increase would raise about $38 million annually. Most of it would go to cover 4% system pay increases in each of the next two fiscal years, he said.
Rothman didn't offer any further details on the increase. UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch said in an email to The Associated Press that the 5% figure would be the systemwide average increase for resident undergraduate tuition and feels. He said the full proposal isn't available yet and didn't immediately respond to a follow-up message asking when it would be released.
Republican lawmakers froze tuition for in-state undergraduates in 2013. But they lifted the freeze in 2021, opening the door for regents to raise rates if they so choose. The board hasn't imposed any increase so far, relying on federal pandemic relief funds to cover costs.
Current undergraduate tuition for Wisconsin residents ranges from about $4,750 annually at the system's two-year schools to about $9,275 at UW-Madison, the system's flagship four-year university, according to system figures. Those costs don't include student fees and living expenses.
But like all other sectors, the system faces rising inflation, and Gov. Tony Evers' budget would leave the system about $130 million short of what regents say they need to run their campuses over the next two years.
Rothman said most of the pandemic relief money has been spent and that it helped stave off tuition increases but masked the system's financial challenges. High inflation over the past year has hurt the system's spending power and financial uncertainty looms later in 2023 for the entire nation.
Republican state Rep. David Murphy, who chairs the universities committee, has authored a bill that would cap system tuition increases at the rate of inflation. The proposal has yet to get a hearing.
He told Rothman that he never imagined inflation would increase by more than 5%. He asked Rothman if he thought the bill was reasonable. Rothman said the goal was not to ensure the increase came under the rate of inflation, and that system leaders wanted to be “reasonable and focus on affordability.”
Rothman added later that he's “extraordinarily sensitive" to rising costs for students. He pointed to the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a proposal to provide four years of tuition and fees for students coming from families that earn less than $62,000. Evers' budget would provide $25 million for the program.
The promise program would not extend to UW-Madison students. That school implemented its own program to cover tuition for low-income students in 2018.
State Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Democrat whose district includes UW-Stevens Point, said she is worried about students from families that make more than $62,000.
She said many students attend the system's regional campuses like UW-Stevens Point because of the low cost, and that an increase could mean a student doesn't eat a third meal in a day or can't take the last class he or she needs to graduate. The Legislature's finance committee needs to commit more state aid to the system as it revises Evers' budget this spring, she said.