The top man at the University of Wisconsin System wants to raise tuition. He just doesn’t want to go along with the plan from state lawmakers to do it. 

UW System President Ray Cross told lawmakers that a plan to set tuition rates by state law is unworkable.

“Senate Bill 343 puts into place limits on tuition starting in the 2021-2022 academic year. The bill creates a cohort tuition model, which freezes tuition for resident undergraduates for up to four consecutive years,” Cross said. “The cohort model is costly and administratively difficult to implement since there would be several different pricing structures.”

Cross said in Illinois there are 26 different pricing structures for tuition at that state’s public universities. Cross added it would cost more than $2.5 million to reconfigure the billing system in Wisconsin. And that doesn’t include the costs to change things at the state’s biggest campus, UW Madison. 

Lawmakers are considering a plan that sets tuition with an eye toward guaranteeing costs for four years. 

Sen. Andre Jaque, R-DePere, authored the plan. 

“We’ve had the [tuition] freeze for a few years. And I have supported that,” Jaque said. “But I do think that if we’re looking into the future, in terms of setting a reasonable restriction that would allow for future planning, this is something that would allow for building some confidence in the UW System.”

Wisconsin lawmakers started the tuition freeze seven years ago, and have insisted upon keeping it in place. 

Cross said the tuition freeze has cost the university dearly. 

“The tuition freeze started in 2013, by the end of this budget it will have gone on for eight academic years at the four-year institutions. And 12 of the last 14 years at the two-year campuses,” Cross said. “I think we can all agree that a tuition freeze is not sustainable.”

Cross said he can’t support Jaque’s proposal because it’s the job of UW Regents to set tuition, and because Cross wants a tuition increase that keeps up with inflation and university costs. 

State Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, who is sponsoring the idea in the State Assembly, said that tuition costs for the UW System can go up. But they have to be affordable. 

“My philosophy on tuition is that it needs to be affordable. But it shouldn’t be free,” Murphy said. “I think students having skin in the game is important. When you pay something for a service, you value it more than if it’s free.”

Wednesday’s hearing was informational and no votes were cast.

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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