The word reciprocity means to have equal rights or benefits mutually yielded or enjoyed. Unfortunately, the reciprocity agreement that Minnesota and Wisconsin share does not grant equal benefits to all students.
Most people assume that reciprocity agreements create a situation in which students who are attending a school outside their home state pay the in-state tuition rate at that school. For many states, this is the case. The agreements that Minnesota has with North Dakota and South Dakota work this way. However, when it comes to Wisconsin, the state with which we share the most students, the system is set up differently.
Under the current system, students who attend college in the other state pay their home tuition rate. For example, a Wisconsin student attending the University of Minnesota pays the same tuition that she would pay to attend the University of Wisconsin. Likewise, a Minnesota student going to Madison pays what he would pay to attend the University.
While this may sound reasonable, it actually creates an unbalanced situation. Because the tuition at Madison is about $1,000 less per year than tuition at the University, students from Wisconsin pay less to go to the University than students who live in Minnesota. Over the course of four years, Wisconsinites pay $4,000 less than Minnesotans to go to the same university.
Not only is this situation contradictory to the goals of a reciprocity agreement, it also creates an unreasonable situation for taxpayers in this state. The University is funded in large part by state taxes — approximately $5,800 per student. Most Wisconsin students, for the great majority of their lives, did not pay state taxes in Minnesota and neither did their parents, so it is unreasonable to give them a discount on tuition.
A more equitable situation would model the agreement that Minnesota has with North Dakota and South Dakota. Minnesotans going to Wisconsin and Wisconsinites coming here should pay the same tuition as local, resident students. This plan is able to preserve the benefits of reciprocity for everyone, but eliminates the unfair bias that has been created with Minnesota’s arrangement with Wisconsin.
Reciprocity is a great idea, and if properly implemented, it provides equitable benefits for all concerned. There is certainly nothing wrong with Wisconsin students paying the same tuition as Minnesota students and vice versa. The problem is when Wisconsin students are guaranteed a lower rate of tuition and Minnesotans are forced into a higher rate.
Steps taken last spring to balance the agreement somewhat were excellent first steps. However, the boards of regents from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin should not now assume that everything is fair. Further action must be taken regarding this situation if true equity is to be attained.