Scott Walker Promises to Extend Tuition Freeze If Reelected

by | July 26, 2018 AT 9:30 AM

By Eric Lindquist

With Gov. Scott Walker planning to extend a tuition freeze on UWvSystem campuses for another four years if he's re-elected, UW-Stout and UW-Eau Claire officials said Tuesday they hope such a move would be accompanied by an increase in state aid.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that Walker is announcing his support for a continued freeze even though UW officials say they fear extending the freeze could hurt the quality of education they provide.

The freeze, enacted by Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature, has been in place for six years.

In that time, the UW-Stout campus in Menomonie has cut its administration costs considerably, including consolidating from four to three colleges, and reduced expenses in all its nonacademic areas, spokesman Doug Mell said.

Revenue sources for UW campuses are limited primarily to tuition, state aid and private fundraising.

"So obviously when tuition is frozen, it puts an additional degree of importance on the other avenues where we receive our revenue," Mell said. "We've gone through a long period of finding efficiencies on campus, so the places to look for that are limited as well. So we would hope that any sort of continuation of a tuition freeze comes with some sort of commitment to help us meet our budget with state aid."

Likewise, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said he has encouraged the UW System to seek additional public investment in the state's universities in the coming year along with increased funding for need-based grants for low-income students.

"Adding state resources is necessary to ensure that our universities remain strong to meet the needs of our students and continue to drive the state's economy," Schmidt said in a statement.

Though Schmidt said he supports keeping the cost of college degrees affordable for everyone in Wisconsin, he pointed out that "the tremendous positive impact our Blugold graduates have on their communities is made possible in part through the state's investment in our mission."

The eight Democratic candidates running to replace Walker are divided on whether to keep the freeze in place, with the Journal Sentinel reporting that Tony Evers, Mahlon Mitchell and Josh Pade are in favor of it, while Matt Flynn, Mike McCabe and Kelda Roys back a tuition cut. Paul Soglin said he would be unlikely to raise tuition, and Kathleen Vinehout said she would rely on the recommendation of the UW System Board of Regents.

The Democrats will square off in an Aug. 14 primary to determine who faces Walker in the Nov. 6 general election.

Regents President John Behling of Eau Claire told the Leader-Telegram he agrees with Walker.

"I think we need to continue to freeze tuition and work to keep our campuses first class and yet affordable and accessible," Behling said.

He called the potential continuation of the tuition freeze "great news for Wisconsin students" while acknowledging it may lead to more funding challenges for campuses.

"I will continue to stress to campuses that we have to continue to work harder and find ways to do more with less," Behling said.

UW System President Ray Cross told the Journal Sentinel he wants to see tuition go up at the rate of inflation, saying without a tuition hike, "we start to put quality in jeopardy."

UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi said in an email to the Leader-Telegram that the system is studying the issue.

"This is an important topic, one we are thoughtfully reviewing with our stakeholders to ensure that our students and this world-renowned asset continue to thrive," LaRoi said.

UW-Stout's goal since the tuition freeze first took effect has been to ensure that any reduction in revenue doesn't affect the quality of education, Mell said.

"But that becomes more and more difficult as we get further and further into these freezes," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(c)2018 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)