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Walker calls for additional UW tuition freeze

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • April 11, 2014 - 3:35 PM

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker on Friday called for another two-year tuition freeze throughout the University of Wisconsin System, citing concern over a projected year-end surplus topping $1 billion.

Walker, who is running for re-election this year, made the call for a freeze as the UW Board of Regents was meeting in River Falls. UW System President Ray Cross announced the governor's position following a presentation about the reserves.

Cross said he wanted to work with Walker and the Legislature to better understand the university's financial situation "so we can get the best budget possible for the university."

Last year Walker proposed, and the Legislature passed, a two-year tuition freeze in light of reserves that were around $650 million at the time. The two-year freeze was the first of its kind for the 42-year-old UW System.

Before the freeze, UW tuition had increased 5.5 percent a year since 2007.

"After years of tuition hikes, it is important to give our students and their families a break," Walker said in a statement. "Our proposed second two-year tuition freeze will go a long way to helping working families and students have access to higher education."

The next two-year state budget will be introduced early next year by the governor and then considered by the Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald supports another tuition freeze, said his spokesman Dan Romportl. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also got behind the idea.

"I expect that the Legislature will consider this option during the budget process next session while working with UW officials to maintain one of the finest university systems in the country," Vos said.

The Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee also backed the idea.

Walker, who has a son attending UW-Madison and another at Marquette University, said at a bill-signing in Milwaukee that he can appreciate how challenging it is to help children get a college degree.

"It's one more way to make college affordable," Walker said of the proposed freeze.

Walker attended Marquette University but left before he obtained his degree. This week he said he would like to earn his degree through UW's new flex option program, which grants credit for life and work experience. But for now the program doesn't offer classes in the areas Walker studied.

Walker is running for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke. Her campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki called Walker's tuition freeze proposal "reasonable."

"But that doesn't address the long-term need for the UW System to remain a core driver of our state's economy and of ensuring access to higher education for Wisconsin students," Zepecki said, citing Burke's plan for refinancing student loan payments and making more tuition and fees tax-deductible.

Data released Thursday showed the UW System finished the first three quarters of the fiscal year with more than $1.7 billion on hand and should finish the year with about $1.1 billion left over.

Of that, 75 percent is already committed. Of the rest, 22 percent is being held for a purpose related to the original funding source but the planned expenditure is not documented, UW said in a release. That leaves just 3 percent, or $38 million, as money with no specific spending plans, the university said.

"We intend to thoughtfully and judiciously manage and explain our resources," Cross said in a statement.

The average cost for an undergraduate at UW-Madison who started last fall was $9,273 in tuition, $1,130 in fees and $8,287 for room and board.

© 2014 Star Tribune