Wisconsin state aid cuts prompt universities to examine tuition hikes

January 30, 2015

Governor Scott Walker’s (R-WI) proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin system are the largest the system has ever faced, according to UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank in the recent Inside Higher Ed article, "Deep Cuts in Wisconsin," by Ry Rivard. Blank, who previously served as dean at the Ford School, may now face the challenge of compensating for this $300 million system-wide cut, $120 million of which will directly impact the flagship campus at Madison.

Sounds familiar? That's because this is a conversation that has been had in legislatures across the country – and one of the most reliably contentious solutions has been to increase tuition.  Ford School professor Kevin Stange, also cited in the piece, is taking a deeper look into the impacts of such policies on students in Texas.  

In 2003 when Texas deregulated college prices, researchers found that the cost of attending state schools went up and that many Hispanic students “may have been kept away.”  Stange told Inside Higher Ed that, while prices increased at those institutions, the state also ensured that colleges reserved new education dollars for need-based aid.  “I think that’s going to be a critical piece in Wisconsin, whether or not we see that sort of string attached to this independence,” Stange reported.

Currently, decisions about tuition, tenure, and construction at University of Wisconsin campuses are regulated by the state legislature with the approval of the governor.  Under Walker’s plan, much of this authority would be turned over to the UW Board of Regents to provide flexibility in pursuing new funding plans that balance the schools’ revenues and costs.

Kevin Stange is an assistant professor of public policy. His research interests lie broadly in empirical labor and public economics, with a focus on higher education and health care.