The Board of Regents voted unanimously to implement the plan during a meeting at UW-Milwaukee, marking another step toward pleasing Republican lawmakers who are still seething after learning last year that campuses had been building huge surpluses while raising tuition year after year. The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed in 2013 froze tuition for two years and the governor has called for doing that for another two years in the 2015-17 budget.
The system's 2014-15 annual budget freezes tuition for a second straight year as per the Republican mandate. It also calls for spending down the system and campus surpluses built with tuition and tax dollars from a projected $381 million on July 1 to $304.6 million by the end of next June. Of that $304 million, $190.2 million will be earmarked for specific purposes - all key moves for new system President Ray Cross, who has been working to repair relationships with the GOP since he took over earlier this year.
Students won't face higher tuition bills, but they'll still have to pay more to go to school next year. The budget raises student fees by an average of 3.6 percent and room-and-board expenses by an average of 2.7 percent at the 13 four-year campuses. Students on those campuses will have to pay an average of $39 more in fees, $115 more for housing, and $63 more for meal plans.
Students at the system's two-year schools would have to pay an average of $11 more in fees, $175 more for housing and $28 more for meal plans.
Cross wrote in background materials for the board that the system must raise those fees and costs to cover student-initiated programming, projects, dorm renovations, maintenance, rising food costs and non-faculty staff compensation.
All in all, the $6.1 billion plan represents a 1.7 percent spending increase over last year.
The regents passed the plan with little discussion. Margaret Farrow complained about freezing tuition for non-resident students, calling their current rates a bargain and saying she wants them to pay more. Board President Michael Falbo hinted tuition increases for that group of students could be on the horizon, telling Farrow her comments wouldn't be forgotten as system officials craft their 2015-17 budget request to lawmakers.
The board also unanimously approved asking the state's Higher Educational Aids Board to ask legislators for an additional $14.9 million for the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant Program as they craft the two-year state budget. System officials say they would eliminate a 3,581-student waiting list for the grants and raise the average award amount from $1,776 to $1,837 in 2016-17.