The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Tuition hike needs students’ OK

Janie Boschma

Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich has said his first introduction to the term “super senior” was in 2006 when he began his post as the head of UW-Eau Claire.

“Is a 26 percent four-year graduation rate really acceptable?” Levin-Stankevich asked in his State of the University address Aug. 25. “Is that the mark of a premier learning community?”

He pointed out that while 26 percent of Eau Claire students graduate in four years, 32 percent and 50 percent of students do so at UW-La Crosse and UW-Madison, respectively.

Levin-Stankevich and administrators are working out the details of a plan, the “Blugold Commitment,” with Student Senate that would increase differential tuition between $1,000 and

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$2,500 over four years and improve four-year graduation rates.

Revenue would be split three ways: financial aid to offset the increase, faculty/staff hires to improve course availability, and enhance such campus programs as faculty-student research, service learning and first year experience.

Students now pay $81.50 per semester in differential tuition, which is a supplement to standard tuition that is approved each year by Student Senate.

Few of the Blugold Commitment’s details have been finalized, said David Gessner, assistant chancellor for budget and finance. All drafts include phased increases that would apply to all majors, but only undergraduate students, Gessner said.

“We’re trying to figure out what is acceptable to them (Student Senate) and what they expect from it,” he said.

Though UW System guidelines don’t require student support for introducing a differential tuition increase to the Regents, Levin-Stankevich and Student Body President Michael Umhoefer said the plan would be a tough sell for a passing vote without it.

“Without student support, the Regents will simply not approve it,” Levin-Stankevich said at the Blugold Breakfast in August, when he introduced the plan to faculty and staff.

Eau Claire will host the Regents’ meeting Oct. 15 and 16, when Levin-Stankevich will present a version of the Blugold Commitment with more concrete numbers, “even if it’s not completely fleshed out yet,” Gessner said.

The Regents could vote on the plan as soon as December, and if it’s approved, students could begin paying the increased tuition as soon as fall 2010, Gessner and Umhoefer said.

Levin-Stankevich’s justification for the increase is that educational quality would improve, and students would save money by paying higher tuition over four years than the current tuition over five or more, he said.

As is, the plan’s four-year graduation promise wouldn’t affect comprehensive accounting majors like senior Elise Wood, who’s on track for graduation from the five-year program next year.

Wood said she had been expecting a tuition increase for business students because the program is a bargain at the current tuition level. But she said she is surprised the proposal would require a tuition increase across all majors, when they are not all equal in demand, projected salary or the cost of professors.

Wood said she also is not sure it would be reasonable to expect every student to graduate in four years.

“It just doesn’t seem like a whole lot of students come to school knowing exactly what they want to do and then can just punch it out in four years,” Wood said. “I think college, especially at a liberal arts college, is about exploring . what’s out there for them. To say, ‘it’s in your benefit to rush through and get done in four years,’ I don’t know that’s in the best interest of every student.”

Umhoefer said most students will probably balk at any mention of a tuition increase, but a trend in reduced state funding has left the university with few options.

“Basically, it comes down to … do you value the cost of the education, or do you value the quality of the education?” he said. “I think the students all came here knowing that Eau Claire is a prestigious place to go to college, and without actually increasing the cost of the education, the quality is going to significantly drop.”

However, Umhoefer said adjusting general education requirements in each department to allow a guaranteed four-year graduation will determine whether the Blugold Commitment would actually benefit students and justify the tuition increase.

About 25 percent of faculty members said the current general education program is “too complicated or lacks flexibility,” and 22 percent said it has “little connection across disciplines,” according to the 2009 UW-Eau Claire Self-Study for the Higher Learning Commission. In the same survey, 30 percent of students said they think the GE program is “too restrictive or lacks flexibility,” and 17 percent said there are “too many or unnecessary credits required.”

If the university can fulfill its promise of both increasing educational quality and making sure students can graduate in four years, Umhoefer said he fully supports the plan.

But if it can’t, “then it is just a tuition hike.”

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