Wisc. won’t yield to U

Wisconsin and Minnesota lawmakers met last week to discuss the reciprocity issue.

by Courtney Blanchard

Wisconsin lawmakers are calling the reciprocity debate a Minnesota bookkeeping problem, saying their state is paying what’s due to Minnesota.

A bill in Minnesota’s House would charge Wisconsin students Minnesota resident tuition rates, which are more than $1,000 higher per year than Wisconsin’s tuition rates.

Legislators in Madison say they’re complying with the current agreement and sending the difference to St. Paul, but that money isn’t getting back to the University.

Wisconsin Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, said she met with lawmakers from districts bordering Minnesota last week to discuss reciprocity.

“It’s not Wisconsin’s responsibility to get it back to the University,” she said. “That’s where the University is crying foul.”

Rhoades will work with her Minnesota counterparts to preserve the current system, she said, because it grants students from both states access to a wider array of universities and programs.

“This is a greater philosophical debate: why should Wisconsin students pay less?” Rhoades said. “Wisconsin has held down tuition at a lower rate of increase than Minnesota has.”

Critics of the system argue that because the money from Wisconsin goes to the Minnesota state general fund, the University never directly takes it in as tuition revenue.

Wisconsin sent Minnesota more than $10 million for the 2005-2006 school year, according to a report by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Minnesota Department of Finance spokesperson Erin Coghlan said the University shouldn’t see any loss in revenue from reciprocity because the state already gives the University a biennial appropriation.

“The state of Minnesota gives enough appropriations to cover the cost,” she said.

Both states use a formula that figures the number of credits taken by students using reciprocity, multiplied by the cost of the school attended, Coghlan said.

Each government sends over the final figure to compensate for the difference, she said.

“We have no control over the University of Minnesota’s tuition,” Coghlan said. “There’s no correlation between increases in tuition and Wisconsin reciprocity.”

But University officials insist there is a link between the reciprocity agreement and tuition.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the system complicates the University’s balance, because less tuition is paid to the University general fund and the state doesn’t send payments besides the budget appropriations.

“Smoothing this difference out would keep tuition lower,” he said.

Pfutzenreuter said to be fair, Wisconsin students should pay the same as Minnesota residents, and University President Bob Bruininks asked the Legislature to change the program for that reason.

“The gap between tuition has gotten bigger to the point where the president feels it’s just not fair,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education, said that while the University loses some money on the deal, officials want to change an outdated agreement that’s unfair to Minnesota residents.

Lawmakers originally intended the reciprocity agreement, drafted in the 1960s, to serve students who lived close to the border, Swan said.

At the time, the states intended to give students on the border an option to attend school closer to home, he said, adding that there were no problems until tuition in Minnesota outgrew Wisconsin.

“Then, the tuition in both states wasn’t very high,”

Swan said. “People just really didn’t think about the implications of it.”