The UW-River Falls Student Senate passed a resolution against a tuition freeze and for a 5.5 percent tuition cap.
The state of Wisconsin is considering implementing a tuition freeze for the entire UW System for the 2014 and 2015 academic years. This is in response to the over $1 billion of surplus money found by the state in April.
The 5.5 percent cap means that if the state were to listen to this resolution, UWRF’s tuition could raise up to 5.5 percent a year for both the 2014 and 2015 academic years.
The state of Wisconsin sets the tuition for the UW System, not the individual schools.
Senate Vice President Anthony Sumnicht authored the motion, which was passed on May 7, and said that a tuition freeze would be bad for UWRF because it would prevent the University from operating at its current capacity.
“We would have to cut back on our operations. Whether that’s through projects that would be funded by tuition, or cutting back on classes or staff which are all things that directly affects students’ education and affects our campus,” Sumnicht said.
However, Assistant Chancellor for Business and Finance Elizabeth Frueh said that the tuition freeze is not the only factor which could shape UWRF in the next few years.
“Right now we don’t know if the Cost to Continue dollars that were included in the governor’s original budget will continue to be approved by joint finance and the legislature,” Frueh said. “So if we’re looking at a tuition freeze plus loss of the Cost to Continue dollars, that’s a completely different item then just a tuition freeze.”
The Cost to Continue dollars are added toward the University’s base and are tax payer dollars. This funding is used to pay for fringe benefit costs which include health insurance and retirement benefits. The University receives Cost to Continue money each year from the state.
According to Frueh, another issue is the faculty pay plan. Professors in the UW System are paid about 18 percent less than professors at counterpart universities across the country. In addition, faculty and staff at UWRF have not had a pay increase for five years.
“A tuition freeze makes it that much harder for us to fund new initiatives, to fund our strategic plan, to fund a pay plan, to fund Cost to Continue,” Frueh said.
During the debate on the resolution, Senators Jeremy Schottroff and Steven Middlemiss both said they talked about the resolution with some students.
Schottroff said he got positive feedback for the resolution, while Middlemiss said the students he talked to did not approve of the resolution.
Sarah Stoneburg, a sophomore at UWRF, said that she is behind the resolution for a tuition cap.
“[Tuition] would be likely to go up in the future anyway, so we might as well get it done now, and not have to deal with it later, Stoneburg said.
Aaron Johnson, a junior at UWRF, said that he is not in favor of Senate’s resolution against the tuition freeze.
“I would rather have a freeze, personally,” Johnson said. “It would keep tuition at an already low price, attract more students to this school and benefit those who aren’t financially well off.”
Attracting more students, and keeping them at the University, is another issue which has been at the forefront of the tuition freeze discussion.
In the discussion, Senator Nicholas Vanden Heuvel said that raising tuition would not help the retention rate. He said that the low cost of UWRF is what brings students to the University, and raising those costs might push students away. According to a presentation by Chancellor Dean Van Galen to the Board of Regents, the retention rate at UWRF dropped 6.2 percent from 2009 to 2011.
After discussion ended, Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 13-1-1.
“A tuition increase helps us to meet our No. 1 priority of a pay plan, but also helps to increase the funds that we use for the strategic plan and also helps us to fund new initiatives for academic programs,” Frueh said.
The resolution will be now forwarded to members of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
However, the state may not change their stance on the tuition freeze. Sumnicht said that Senate will be active in contacting the governor’s office, the state Legislature and the Board of Regents to talk about the tuition freeze. He added that if more Universities pass similar resolutions the state may be forced to take notice.
“More support for a cause always helps. Especially when it’s the consumer, in the sense of tuition. The students are the ones who are paying the tuition, if they are willing to pay more to basically keep what they have, then it should show the state that this is what the students actually need and what they want,” Sumnicht said.
UWRF is not the first Senate in the UW System to pass a resolution about the tuition freeze. UW-Stout unanimously passed a similar resolution, but with a 2 percent tuition cap instead of a 5.5 percent cap. UW-Eau Claire also passed a resolution unanimously, but their resolution was in favor the tuition freeze.