LA CROSSE -- Many students attending a University of Wisconsin System campus would see their tuition cut by five percent under a plan floated by Gov. Scott Walker, who is pledging to make up for the lost tuition money by providing campuses with an infusion of tax money.
Walker's plan, while will be part of the budget he's scheduled to unveil on Wednesday, February 8th, earned praise from campus officials but got a chilly reception from Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature.
Tuition for in-state undergraduate students has been frozen for four years, and Walker said he would extend that for a fifth year before the 5 percent tuition cut took effect in the 2018-19 school year. Walker said he would provide campuses with $35 million to offset the loss of tuition dollars, and an additional $100 million would be available through a variety of programs and by meeting performance metrics.
"What we heard was a concern about the high cost of higher education across the country," Walker said while announcing the proposal in La Crosse.
In-state students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee would see $202.30 in savings per semester from the tuition cut, based on tuition of $4,045.96 per semester.
The governor's plan would also allow students to opt out of certain campus fees that go to student groups. Such charges, known as "allocable fees," are $229.50 per semester at UW-Milwaukee.
Walker’s tuition cut idea got a chilly reception from Republican leaders in both the Assembly and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald “has not seen significant support for the tuition cut within his caucus,” said Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Fitzgerald. Tanck said Fitzgerald hasn't ruled out supporting a tuition cut but believed more needed to be done to address rising student fees.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos "supports keeping tuition where it is and wants to focus on providing adequate financial aid," said Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos.
Democrats, including Sens. Lena Taylor and LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee, said they liked the idea of a tuition cut but voiced additional concerns with Walker's proposal.
Johnson said the tuition cut should primarily benefit lower-income students. Taylor said Walker should focus on reversing the $250 million in cuts to the UW System made two years ago.
"He talks a really good talk. I mean, is it election time?" Taylor said in an interview. "I want him to walk the walk. I want him to replace the deep cuts to the UW System."
Walker has strongly indicated that he plans to run for a third term as Wisconsin governor, but says he will not make an announcement until after the budget is passed this summer.
On top of the $35 million meant to offset the loss of tuition dollars, Walker's $100 million in additional funding would flow to UW System campuses through a series of initiatives.
The funding includes $42.5 million that would be based on certain performance metrics such as the number of students they graduate into in-demand degree fields. Faculty would also have to report the number of hours they spend teaching as an "accountability" measure," Walker said.
Campus administrators gave more positive reviews to Walker's higher education budget than lawmakers did.
UW-Milwaukee chancellor Mark Mone said he was encouraged by the proposal.
"I am pleased that there are proposals for additional funding and no proposed reductions," Mone said in a statement. This direction is consistent with what we have been requesting and what will be beneficial to our students and the state of Wisconsin."
Board of Regents President Regina Millner said she appreciated the governor's investment in the UW System.
As Regents, we have a strong responsibility to keep the UW System affordable and accessible for Wisconsin families while protecting the quality and excellence for which we are known the world over," she said.