Tuition pact in debate

Currently, Minnesotans pay more at the University than students from Wisconsin do.

Elena Rozwadowski

A tuition reciprocity pact in place between Minnesota and Wisconsin since the 1980s could be renegotiated in upcoming weeks, meaning students from Wisconsin might be paying a higher tuition bill.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education sent a letter to the Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board Dec. 14 asking to rework the tuition pact due to a growing tuition gap between the University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Under the current agreement, students attending a Minnesota or Wisconsin college pay the in-state tuition rates for an equivalent college in their state of residence. For example, Wisconsin students attending the University pay the tuition rate for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Minnesotans, however, pay the University’s in-state tuition rate.

That means Wisconsinites are paying more than $1200 less than Minnesotans to attend the University.

The request to renegotiate the pact came from President Bob Bruininks three years ago, said Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

“There is a big tuition gap between the two states,” Heegaard said. “Our goal would be to close that gap.”

In recent years, University tuition rose faster than at Wisconsin, with four double-digit increases in the last six years. Now, the University loses more than $6 million in tuition per year under the agreement.

The states pay each other for the lost tuition, but the payments go into a general state fund rather than directly to the schools.

Under Minnesota’s proposed agreement, Heegaard said rather than paying their respective in-state tuition rates, students would pay the higher of the two tuitions.

“We can’t just go over to Wisconsin and boss them around,” Heegaard said. “But we can make requests.

“We just want Wisconsin students to pay what Minnesota students pay,” she said.

Minnesota has similar agreements that defer to the higher tuition rate with other bordering states, such as North and South Dakota.

But in its response, Heegaard said Wisconsin seemed reluctant to rework the deal.

Connie Hutchison, the Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board’s executive secretary, said the states have a memorandum of agreement every year in the late fall to outline each school’s tuition structure and that Minnesota has been talking about reworking the deal for several years.

“We’re still in the negotiation phase now,” Hutchison said. “This is not the end of the discussion.”

She said representatives from the two states would be meeting next week and probably once more a few weeks later.

“The reciprocity agreement provides choices for our students that they wouldn’t have if it were to go away,” Hutchison said. “I’m sure this is just the beginning of our discussions.”

Students from both states voiced different opinions about the renegotiations.

University of Wisconsin psychology senior Alison Reynolds from Moorhead, Minn., said she doesn’t mind paying more than Wisconsin students to attend their university, but that it’s “wacky” for Minnesota students to pay more here.

“Wisconsin students shouldn’t pay less to go to the ‘U’ because they don’t even live there,” Reynolds said. “If it were truly reciprocal, we would be paying the same.”

But University child psychology junior Heidi Flessert, who is from Wisconsin, said she doesn’t think it would be fair for Minnesota to change the deal.

“Minnesota came into this agreement,” Flessert said. “I don’t think it’s fair that we should have to pay more money; tuition is higher than it should be across the board.”

Under the agreement, either school can drop out if it chooses, but both sides have said they would like to keep the pact alive.

“This affects generations of students on both sides,” Heegaard said. “Our great hope is that it would not come to that.”