Scott Walker’s Tuition Markdown
Scott Walker’s 2011 budget reforms are now paying out what he called a “reform dividend” in his budget proposal this week. The Wisconsin Governor wants to share some of the windfall with college students. Strangely enough, but then maybe not, his inspiration is riling up the bureaucracy that allegedly exists to serve college students.
Mr. Walker froze in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin in 2013, and now he’s promoting a 5% cut for the 2018-19 school year—the first year-over-year cost decrease in the history of the public university system. The Governor suggests a state budget surplus can be used in part to increase UW’s $6.3 billion budget by $105.2 million, plus a separate $35 million to backfill the lost tuition.
Including the tuition freeze and next year’s cut, the class of 2019 will save about $9,000 each relative to the trend in the decade before the freeze, when UW tuition climbed 118%.
Nearly everybody agrees college affordability is receding and claims to be worried about student debt, though woe unto the Governors who do more than talk. Mr. Walker’s tuition discount is getting a cool reception in the Republican-controlled state legislature because it is a spending increase. But compare that to the reception in Madison and other college towns.
UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank of the flagship campus said in a statement she was “very appreciative” of the funding increases, but she told the faculty in January: “It will not surprise you to know that I think this isn’t the best way to use state dollars. Saving everybody a hundred dollars or so is peanuts compared to what’s needed, which is affordability for low- and middle-income students. We have large numbers of families for whom that hundred dollars is meaningless.”
The UW Board of Regents has been in open revolt against the tuition freeze for years, viewing Mr. Walker’s concession prices as beneath the school’s reputation and dignity. “I don’t want to diminish the importance of tuition, but let’s not get tuition tunnel vision,” UW-System President Ray Cross warned last October. By the way, the new Walker budget brings need-based financial aid to an all-time state high.
Mr. Walker’s tuition cut is a useful exercise in truth-in-advertising for academic priorities. Public universities want both higher costs for students and more taxpayer money, and anybody who tries to challenge this status quo is merely offering “peanuts.”