Boots & Sabers

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2150, 13 Apr 15

Tying Tuition to Inflation


Walker’s budget calls for cutting $300 million from the system and extending a freeze on resident undergraduate tuition to July 1, 2017. In exchange the system would be free of state oversight starting in July 2016.

The plan has left students and legislators worried that the Board of Regents could dramatically increase tuition when the freeze ends.

Walker’s administration sent a letter to the leaders of the Legislature’sfinance committee on Monday saying the governor was modifying his proposal to limit post-freeze tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Walker has hinted since February he may impose tuition caps.

What I don’t like about this proposal is that it assumes that the current tuition is appropriate compared to the average Wisconsinite’s other relative costs. Is it? Could it cost less and still provide the same or better education? Just because a family’s other expenses increase, does that automatically mean that tuition should go up by the same amount? Why? Why shouldn’t the legislature’s efforts go into driving down the price of tuition relative to a family’s overall expenditures as a tuition freeze does over time? Wouldn’t that be preferable to locking in automatic tuition increases every year? And yes… I assume that if this is in place that UW would jack up tuition by the rate of inflation every year if they were able to.


2150, 13 April 2015


  1. SteveAustin

    The outcomes here aren’t perfect, but we are at least having the debate in Wisconsin about the cost/benefit of college along with exposing the institutional problems inherent in academia and funding of college that have gotten us to this point.

    Every news conference that Ray Cross or Rebecca Blank utilize to shout out how “badly UW is being treated” are greeted with skepticism or anger by the average middle class Wisconsin family trying to afford college for their kids. And I think even some of the college students aren’t buying in anymore to the idea that they need to lockstep lobby for more funding for their faculty and staff given that they all are going $25k to $125k in debt only to find themselves on the end of a WalMart job after five years in school.

    This is the same thing Walker did with K-12 public education 3-4 years ago. And the college/university crew is playing right into his hands again. It is what happens when you have a fat monopoly that has been allowed to lose touch with their customers.

  2. dad29

    UW-Milwaukee apparently decided to ‘reduce costs’ by offering early retirement bonuses to 300 people.

    Should we conclude that UW-M is overstaffed by around 300 people?

  3. Gee

    Nope. You should conclude that, based on experience at other UW campuses, the aim is to outsource UW custodial and clerical jobs — replaced by as many workers but for lower wages (not conducive to better state revenue projections) and fewer to no benefits, of course (conducive to more state residents relying on food stamps and other increased reliance on state funding).

    That is why, at the first of the UW campuses to offer the early-retirement plan, the results already are in and show that most of the workers signing up for it are classified staff, i.e., custodial and clerical employees. Worry not about the classrooms, no doubt your concern, as the students at UW-Eau Claire still will see most of their faculty, as only 20 of the 400 faculty signed up for the plan — and not all may receive approval, as staffing the classrooms must come first.

  4. lufthase

    There’s only 2 places that money to educate UW students can come from — state aid and tuition/fees. Of course there will always be opportunities for efficiency at the margins, but if you cut state aid per student in real dollars in just about every budget for the last 40 yrs (as both GOP and Dem governors in WI have), tuition/fees are going to increase.
    If state aid per student had just kept pace with inflation since 1973, UW resident undergrad tuition would be around $1,000/yr. Check my math here:
    If you’re upset about the current tuition rates (justifiably so), you should also be upset at the long downward trend of state aid to the UW System.
    The legislature can direct its efforts towards reducing tuition, but understand that this would mean increasing state aid to UW. Tommy Thompson understood this– in order to freeze tuition in 2000, he provided a $28M increase in state aid:

  5. Dave

    Lufthase is right. You guys have this contempt for the educational establishment whether college or K-12 and appear to believe that cutting property taxes the equivalent of $5 per year over two years is worth it when the result is a shortfall to all public school districts.

    As far as UW goes, 40 years ago the state covered about 50% of the cost of a student today that is about 12-13%. Is it really surprising that tuitions have risen faster than inflation? If you don’t want tuition tied to inflation, what are you hoping for? Have professors at research institutions increase their teaching load by 50% and lose millions in research money. Take voluntary pay decreases and continue to lose professors to other better paying colleges?

    Your premise that the UW does not take into account what a middle class family can afford misses the point. If the state continued to believe 50% support of a college education was a benefit to the whole state middle class families would not be stretched thin on this and students would be able to cover their tuition and books with part time jobs as used to to be the case.

    There was a time in this state when intellectualism was esteemed. This is not that time…unfortunately.

  6. dad29

    First off, Dave, you make an unsupported allegation that we no longer support ‘intellectualism.’ That’s a rather un-intellectual error because you confuse “colleges” with “intellectualism.”

    The problem is this: “college education” is over-valued as a mark of productive OR intellectual abilities. So, for 40++ years, the State has built colleges in quest of manufacturing “more productive” people–or “smarter” people–neither of which goals have been achieved.

    Instead, as Belushi & Co. pointed out, for many (if not most) college students, the experience has been merely an extension of high school with slightly more challenging math and composition requirements.

    Intellectual firepower is not poured into people through college, nor is workplace productivity. But a lot of dollars are poured into colleges. It’s not “intellectualism” that bothers us; it’s wasting resources.

  7. Dave

    “The problem is this: “college education” is over-valued as a mark of productive OR intellectual abilities. So, for 40++ years, the State has built colleges in quest of manufacturing “more productive” people–or “smarter” people–neither of which goals have been achieved.”

    Whew! Talk about unsupported allegations!! Dad29, I guess I have to give the gold medal to you on unsupported allegations.

    Colleges have traditionally been a path to higher paying professional careers. But…”What is not in doubt is that the cost of university per student has risen by almost five times the rate of inflation since 1983, and graduate salaries have been flat for much of the past decade.” This is the problem…not some descent into Animal House by students.

    As to anti-intellectualism, that has been a problem throughout our history and this is a time where it is on the rise in our society. Look at the way our society values education and educators vs. Japan.

    “Asian countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. There is suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.”
    This comes from a Psychology Today article:

    Our anti intellectual efforts are not drawing broad respect and praise around the world.

    But then when you have “74% of Republicans in the U.S. Senate and 53% in the House of Representatives deny the validity of climate change despite the findings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and every other significant scientific organization in the world” it kind of puts it in perspective. Rational thought is not valued and truth is ignored to make a political point. Too bad.

  8. dad29

    Colleges have traditionally been a path to higher paying professional careers.

    Yes, until ~1970 or so. Now we have “degree” requirements for customer-service clerks, salesmen, grade-school teachers, and simple accounting clerks. THAT is the reason that compensation has not risen for “college grads.” The vast majority of jobs are not “higher-paying professional” situations. Maybe you should study cause/effect someday.

    As to anti-intellectualism, that has been a problem throughout our history

    For the second time, please provide a logical and supportable connection between ‘anti-intellectualism’ and ‘college degree.’

    Oh, yah. Change in climate is caused ONLY by industrial and human activity, just like it was back in the 1400’s, 1000’s, and B.C. (Relevance ain’t your spe-ci-a-li-tee, is it?)

  9. lufthase

    dad29- Help me understand the conservative (or your own) position here.
    Problem #1 – UW Tuition is too high
    Problem #2 – College education is over-valued and doesn’t increase intelligence or productivity, ergo, State investment in UW is a waste of resources
    Problem #3 – Employers require a college degree for low-wage jobs

    So, what should we (the State of WI) do?

    If we cut state aid to UW, tuition goes up. If we eliminate state aid and take the UW private, tuition will go up 300%+, judging by tuition at existing private colleges in WI.
    If we cut state aid and force tuition down, campuses or academic programs have to be terminated, reducing enrollment.
    If we reduce enrollment, there will eventually be fewer people with the degree employers require… so, employers will look to either recruit employees from other states or relocate their operations. And what happens to the WI residents who otherwise would have pursued a degree? There’s only a finite number of jobs at the Amazon warehouse, and factory work isn’t coming back from China in any significant volume anytime soon.
    Wrong as it may be for an employer to require a degree for a customer service job, what can the state possibly do to change this? “Over-valued” or not, the market of employers has set the value of a degree… and looking for a degree will still be the easiest first step for a busy HR manager trying to whittle down a stack of 200 resumes.

  10. dad29

    Like it or not, the solution is to close 3-5 UW campuses. Kenosha, Stout, and Park Falls come to mind immediately; choose between Eau Claire and LaX for another one.

    Limiting the supply of colleges will allow the colleges to narrow their “picks” from the applicants.

    A not-so-brutal alternative is to eliminate all the BS coursework such as Wimmins Studies (etc., etc., etc.) of the “social studies” departments. And, by the way, one could eliminate the Education undergrad programs with a State law eliminating the “BS Ed” requirement for teaching.

    That’s a start.

  11. lufthase

    Thanks for spelling it out for me.
    I strongly disagree, but kudos for your sense of scale! Combined state aid to Parkside, Stout, River Falls, and Eau Claire is about $133M/yr — in the ballpark of Walker’s proposed cut.

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