Differential tuition talks begin today

The UW System Board of Regents is holding a session today to talk about issues related to college affordability and access to public higher education.

While no action will be taken during the meeting, David Giroux, spokesman for the System, said the meeting is an extension of the System’s overall strategic planning and will begin conversation regarding broad ideas such as tuition strategies. The discussion about the report will be mostly “blue sky thinking,” Giroux said, focusing on the realm of possibility regarding the issues.

In May 2007, System President Kevin Reilly appointed an advisory group to analyze different approaches regarding tuition and financial aid policy. The Regents will discuss the report’s findings.

In the report, a wide range of tuition and financial aid approaches are analyzed, some of which are already in place throughout universities in the System.

Currently, the state is ranked No. 10 on the list of most affordable for access to four-year colleges, and the average undergraduate student pays $1,000 to $2,000 less than those at comparable colleges outside Wisconsin, according to the report.

The report, however, recognizes that while Wisconsin schools are affordable, financial aid levels are relatively low. The report calls for more need-based financial aid investment in order to stimulate more people to seek a four-year degree.

One tuition model Giroux anticipates will be focused on is differential tuition.

Differential tuition charges incrementally higher tuition throughout the System and throughout individual campuses. This type of tuition model uses the extra money generated to offset the costs of new initiatives or student services.

A number of colleges in the System, such as UW-River Falls, UW-La Crosse and UW-Madison, already have differential tuition programs in place, Giroux said.

Student Senate President Ray French said UW-Eau Claire also already has differential tuition, but it is different than programs found on other campuses because it is institution-wide rather than varied throughout programs on campus. Each Eau Claire student pays $75 in differential tuition, outside of regular tuition, which goes to programs that benefit all students, such as service learning, student-faculty research programs, First Year Experience programs, internships and capstone programs.

Giroux said he thinks students on these campuses have generally supported differential tuition because there is a direct, tangible benefit for the students from the higher tuition because any tuition increase funds programs that students utilize.

Giroux said he believes students recognize the direct correlation between the tuition increase and their education.

French said he understands the reasoning behind utilizing differential tuition, but said he is concerned about the possible effects it could have on the perception of programs.

“It could be perceived that a program would be higher valued (if it costs more),” he said, adding that he likes Eau Claire’s current model of differential tuition because it is more supplemental to the university rather than specific programs.

French also said differential could deter students from declaring certain majors because of possible cost differences.

By rule, students must be consulted to create and implement a differential tuition program and students have shown support for certain differential tuition programs on other System campuses, Giroux said.