Wisconsin Legislature passes tuition freeze

by Bryan Keogh

The Wisconsin Legislature passed a higher-education budget package Wednesday establishing a temporary tuition freeze for state college students and an additional $57 million in spending for the next four years.
At least 500 University of Wisconsin-Madison students walked out of their classrooms on Sept. 16 to call for the freeze. The university’s board of regents had passed a 9.6 percent tuition increase in July.
The tuition hike translates to an additional $145 each semester for undergraduates attending full time.
Protest organizers are pleased but hesitant about the Legislature’s increased funding. The university currently charges students at the Madison campus $3,290. The other campuses have rates of $3,194.
“We got what we wanted for the moment,” said David Muhammad, a representative for the Associated Students of Madison. “But it could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Muhammad noted that the tuition freeze is only temporary. The state budget will allocate $28 million to keep tuition rates at the 1999-2000 levels for the following school year.
“If they freeze it this year and raise it 5 percent next year, it won’t help us much,” he said.
The higher-education package is part of the “Madison Initiative,” designed two years ago by university officials in response to a slip in state funding.
Madison officials complained that the state-supported portion of the university budget had fallen from 44 percent in 1973 to only 27 percent in 1998, according to a university Web site.
As state funding decreased, tuition rates rose. Muhammad, a junior and chair of the ASM diversity committee, said his in-state tuition has increased about $150 each year he’s been at the university.
The spending plan was passed Oct. 6 but has not yet been signed by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.
“Madison Initiative” organizers said they hope to recruit 100 new faculty members in the next four years with the increases in state funding and private donations.
Alumni-foundation members expect to raise $40 million from private donors to match the $57 million contribution from the state for the next four years.

Bryan Keogh welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.