UW System to market cost-saving as tuition rises

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 3:11 PM

The University of Wisconsin System will encourage students to graduate faster as a way to save money as some campuses seek tuition increases to improve their quality, its president said Friday.

President Kevin Reilly told the Board of Regents that 29 percent of students graduate within four years, and increasing that rate would allow students to enter the work force faster and free up spots for others.

A student can save $15,000 or more in tuition and room and board by graduating in four years instead of five, Reilly said, and that can be accomplished by taking 15 or more credits per semester. UW-Stout is planning to offer three-year degrees for some programs, and other campuses will likely follow suit, he said.

Reilly said the system would unveil a statewide marketing and communications campaign in coming months to present these options to students and parents. He said the campaign would also stress data that shows students who work too much during college are less likely to graduate and more likely to take longer.

The effort to market cost-saving tips comes as the system is discussing whether to allow more campuses to seek stiff tuition increases to improve academic programs and student services.

Reilly warned that extra tuition revenue is needed as the system tries to graduate more students and provide more financial aid at a time when general state aid remains flat. One way to do that, he said, was to continue allowing campuses to develop specific tuition increases to improve their quality beyond the statewide increase approved every year.

The regents, who govern the system of 13 four-year universities and 13 two-year colleges, earlier this year approved a four-year, $1,000 increase for undergraduate students on the flagship UW-Madison campus to pay for more faculty and improved student services. UW-La Crosse in 2007 won approval of a two-year, $1,000 increase, which allowed that campus to hire 47 more faculty this year despite the economic downturn.

UW-Eau Claire is considering a four-year, $1,200 tuition increase, which was recently backed by its student senate. The campus plans to ask the regents to approve the plan as early as February.

During Friday's meeting at UW-Madison, discussion revealed a sharp divide among the system's chancellors on whether such tuition increases were good public policy.

The chancellors of UW-Madison, UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse, the most selective campuses in the system, argued the increases were justified because their students were willing to pay for the added quality.

But chancellors of UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh said schools such as theirs could not afford steep tuition increases and should get a larger chunk of state funding instead. Otherwise, they warned, quality would vary greatly by each campus.

For their part, the regents seemed comfortable with the campus-specific tuition increases as long as some of the revenue is used to increase financial aid to help the poorest students afford the higher costs.

Regent Brent Smith, who heads the board's committee that oversees tuition policy, said the UW-Madison and UW-La Crosse increases were popular with students.

"I think those examples show that it is working," he said. "I've liked what we've done so far: each particular campus has their own plan ... I would like to continue looking at it on a one-by-one basis."