Reciprocity bill aims to equalize tuition rates

Currently, students from Wisconsin pay approximately $1,100 less than Minnesota residents at the University.

Rowena Vergara

Karena Johnson, a nutrition junior from Eau Claire, Wis., comes from a family with strong University ties.

“My dad and my sister are both alums Ö I never really questioned going to another school,” she said.

The metropolitan location allowed her to step outside of her small town, and because of a reciprocity agreement, Johnson said, she was able to pay a lower tuition rate.

“Compared to other out-of-state students, you pay a significant amount less,” she said. “It’s a good thing to get people to experience a different environment and not feel restricted by money.”

Johnson’s views are not far off from those of the more than 5,600 other Wisconsin students at the University who qualify for reciprocity. The reciprocity agreement Minnesota has with neighboring states allows those states’ students to pay less than the regular out-of-state tuition.

“Students really benefit, by being able to go to programs in other states not available in their home state,” said Kay Anderson, University residency and reciprocity program coordinator.

But the agreement between Minnesota and Wisconsin might change in the future, University officials said. A bill in the Minnesota Legislature would create a new agreement so students from Wisconsin would pay the same tuition as Minnesota residents.

Wisconsin students pay approximately $1,100 less than Minnesota residents, according to January’s Minnesota tuition reciprocity update.

Students from Wisconsin make up the largest population of students with reciprocity at the University.

Currently, the total amount in tuition and fees for in-state residents attending the University is $8,263.

Wisconsin students at the University pay the tuition rate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, plus a 25 percent difference between the two tuition rates, said Jack Rayburn, Minnesota Higher Education Services Office research and program services specialist.

Because of tuition increases at the University of Minnesota in recent years, the tuition gap between the two schools has widened, Rayburn said.

A little more than a year ago, HESO, which handles all matters of reciprocity for the state, decided to address the tuition gap so Wisconsin students would pay the same amount as in-state students in the future.

Student response

For first-year student Nick Vasquez, if it weren’t for reciprocity, he said, he wouldn’t have been able to attend the University of Minnesota.

“For someone who doesn’t come from a high-income family like me, it saved me money,” said Vasquez, who is also from Eau Claire.

“I probably wouldn’t be able to enroll, because I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Many states have a reciprocity agreement with Minnesota, including South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Manitoba, a Canadian province.

Once they meet certain requirements through their home state, students from these areas who attend any Minnesota higher education institution are eligible for a lower tuition rate than other out-of-state students, said Wayne Sigler, the University of Minnesota’s Office of Admissions director.

All reciprocity agreements are between the states and not the institutions.

“It’s like any relationship,” Sigler said. “In order to flourish, both sides see it as beneficial.”

One purpose of reciprocity is to attract students from all backgrounds.

“I’ve met more students from Wisconsin, South Dakota and North Dakota than I do from Minnesota, surprisingly,” said first-year student Rachel Kerr, who is from Hartland, Wis.

While the reciprocity agreement is still being discussed, some students said it might deter students from Wisconsin from attending the University of Minnesota.

Vasquez said the pull from students from Wisconsin might decrease, especially those from lower-income homes.

Other students said they do not think the change of tuition rates would make a difference.

Kerr said she didn’t think more than $1,000 in the “grand scheme of things would seem as much.”

Some in-state students said they do not understand why the University of Minnesota would need an agreement with other states in the first place.

“Why would neighboring states have to pay less anyway?” said Jessica Boerum, a first-year art history student.

But Boerum said reciprocity would be a good idea only if it depended on a person’s family income.

Benefits

Another mission of reciprocity is to encourage out-of-state students to live and work in the area after graduation, Sigler said.

According to a 2002 report from the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, 30 percent to 40 percent of University of Minnesota alumni from Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota live and work in Minnesota.

Dawn Somchaleunsouk, a 2003 University of Minnesota alumna from Sioux Falls, S.D., stayed in the Twin Cities because of the diversity and job market, she said.

“Knowing there are a lot of companies that have a good presence here did not make me want to go back to a small town,” she said.

History

The first reciprocity agreement in the upper Midwest was initiated between Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1968. Agreements with North Dakota and South Dakota followed soon after.

The state also has a reciprocity agreement with Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Nebraska called the Midwest Student Exchange Program. The program is available to undergraduate students only, and they pay 150 percent of the in-state resident tuition rate.

The most recent agreement was established in 1990 with Manitoba.

Although changes are in the making, Sigler said the reciprocity program will not end.

“There is some fine tuning being proposed (with the Minnesota-Wisconsin reciprocity agreement), but it would not alter the entire idea of reciprocity,” he said.