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Board of Regents extends UW System tuition freeze

October 26, 2016

At its Oct. 7 meeting, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents voted unanimously to extend the system-wide tuition freeze into its fifth year.

Lisa Erickson, the UWRF student on the Board of Regents, said that this decision was the Regents’ way of taking back control of setting the tuition for the UW System from the Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker, who created the four-year tuition freeze in 2013.

The Board of Regents also approved plans on raising tuition up to the rate of inflation, which is about $100 per student, for the 2018-2019 academic year.

“Extending the tuition freeze is very good for students, of course. It’s benefited me, it benefits students as a whole, it helps them in the long run,” said Erickson. “However, I realize, and I know the majority of the board members realize this, at some point you have to raise tuition.”

While the tuition freeze has helped with college affordability for students, universities within the UW System have found themselves in a tough spot as state funding has significantly gone down. In the past five years, the state funding for the UW System has been cut by $362 million, with $125 million being cut from the 2015-17 biennium budget.

In the latest UW System budget cut, UWRF saw a $2.87 million cut, leading to the reduction of 55 state/tuition-supported positions, including 18 permanent layoffs or non-retentions.

In the 2017-19 Biennial Operating Budget Request, the Board of Regents is requesting a $42.5 million increase in state funding.

When it comes to the university gaining state funding, Erickson said that between other needs in the state such as rising healthcare costs and infrastructure costs, there is no right answer as to what is a priority.

“There’s no simple, easy answer. It is a very complex situation,” said Erickson.

UWRF Chancellor Dean Van Galen said that he is hopeful that the Wisconsin Legislature will support the state funding request. While he said he welcomes the decision by the Board of Regents to extend the tuition freeze, he has major concerns if state funding in the UW System does not increase.

“I think [state funding] is critical because there are serious compensation needs, not only on our own campus, but throughout the UW System,” said Van Galen.

Van Galen said that the lack of compensation for faculty and staff is one of the biggest problems facing the UW System right now. On average, UWRF faculty earn 18 percent below its national peers. This has led to many UWRF faculty and staff leaving the university.

“I think compensation is a major factor in faculty and staff who choose to seek employment elsewhere,” said Van Galen. “We’ve lost a significant number of staff and faculty to Minnesota, for example, and in many cases that’s based on compensation concerns.”

Erickson said that compensation for faculty and staff is a major issue for her. She said that the reputation of the UW System relies heavily on the quality of faculty that the universities employ.

“I wish there was some way to compensate people for the job that they are doing,” Erickson said. “People here do an excellent job. I’m so proud of UW-River Falls. I’m very proud of what we do here and I’m very proud of the professors and staff. I haven’t met anybody that has been nothing but giving their best here.”