House considers limiting Wisconsin tuition reciprocity

Mike Zacharias

Currently, Minnesota residents pay more money to attend the University and other state colleges than their Wisconsin counterparts. But this arrangement will not exist for long if some state legislators have their way.

A proposal in the state House of Representatives would level the playing field, mandating non-residents at Minnesota institutions pay the same tuition as residents. It was added to a bill in the House’s Higher Education and Finance Committee on Wednesday

“At the University of Minnesota, Wisconsin residents pay $1,000 less than Minnesota residents,” said Rep. Joseph Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud, who authored the reciprocity legislation.

“Today what we did was we dealt with the issue of 9,000 students from other states coming here and paying less than our own Minnesota students and costing the institutions millions of dollars,” Opatz said.

The amendment will affect students from states with which Minnesota has reciprocity agreements: Wisconsin, the Dakotas and some portions of Iowa.

The current agreement allows students from those states to attend Minnesota colleges while paying tuition rates of a similar institution in their home state. In turn, Minnesota residents can attend school in those states while paying Minnesota tuition prices.

When reciprocity agreements were originally arranged, little variance existed between the tuition rates of the reciprocity states, Opatz said. Recent tuition hikes at Minnesota institutions have outpaced those of neighboring states, making it cheaper for reciprocity students to attend colleges here.

“We have over 8,800 students from reciprocity states attending the University of Minnesota this year,” said Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst at the University’s Institutional Research and Reporting department.

“We would be a very different place if we did not have these agreements, and it is our firm opinion that we would not serve the state nearly as well as we currently do if we did not have these agreements,” Zetterberg said.

The amendment would garner an extra $5 million to $6 million for the University, but Minnesota would have to pay Wisconsin more money than it does under the current reciprocity agreements, Zetterberg said.

“We would get additional tuition revenue, and the state of Minnesota would have to pay the state of Wisconsin the exact same amount,” he said.

Zetterberg said he would like to see the Legislature give institutions more time to implement reciprocity policy changes.

“The language in the House bill, for the most part, says, ‘If you make a change it has to be this.’ And maybe it should say, ‘If you make a change over three years,” Zetterberg said. “But there is no such flexibility in the language.”

Brandon Rowland, a University senior and legislative liaison for the Student Legislative Coalition, told committee members reciprocity students would see a $1,500 tuition increase in one year if the amendment is implemented as is.

“We’re concerned with those Wisconsin students who are currently in the system,” he said.

He said students from a reciprocity state – who committed to the University based on their state’s tuition – will not have budgeted for such a sizable tuition hike.

Zetterberg found similar problems with the current bill.

“There would be no attempt to grandfather in students who are already here,” he said.

Mike Zacharias welcomes comments at [email protected]