The University of Wisconsin System's Board of Regents is set to approve a new budget that would increase student fees for the 2018-2019 school year, as well as the cost of room and board. This comes at a time when the UW System has been dealing with both a tuition freeze, and cuts in state funding.
The UW Board of Regents' spending plan calls for raising student fees at four-year schools an average of $33 per student. Room and board would increase an average of $118 per year.
Locally, UW-Milwaukee won’t see that much of a fee increase, according to Robin Van Harpen. She's the university's vice-chancellor for finance.
Van Harpen says that the student fee increase at UWM is below average, and there's no room and board increase. The student fee increase, she says, is mostly due to the employee raises included in the most recent state budget - not everyone who works for the UW System was covered by state funds.
“The pay plan for employees that will go into effect next year, it’s the first pay plan other than a 1% increase in 2014, that our employees have seen in about a decade," she says. "So for our employees in our auxillary units, we need to charge an increased fee in order to pay for that state pay plan.”
Van Harpen says the auxillary employees are those who work in areas like housing, the student union, and campus restaurants. They'll get their raises through the fee increase.
UWM has been working hard to meet all expenses on a tight budget, she says. “We haven’t had a choice. We have been managing our operations in a really lean way, and looking for every possible way to find efficiencies and continue our operations with fewer resources than we had before.”
One of the reasons for the tight budget at UWM and other UW campuses has to do with the tuition freeze - now in its sixth year - proposed by Governor Walker and approved by the Board of Regents.
At the same time, there have been significant cuts to the UW system over the past decade - to the tune of over $500 million.
The System president’s office issued a statement about the budget, indicating that student fees are increasing at four-year institutions and will stay flat at all but one college - Marinette, which is seeking a $9 increase.
The statement said that the majority of the hikes are due to faculty and staff raises, student initiatives, insufficient reserves and capital improvements.
This sort of student fee increase is inevitable, according to Professor Garry Davis, who chair of the UWM Linguistics Department. "Universities across the state and across the nation are competing for services," he says. "They have to offer students more services because that’s what every consumer wants. Those services come at a cost. That’s reflected in the segregated fees that students pay."
Davis is also the parent of a UW System student. He adds, "So, I’m hit on the other side of things by absorbing these costs. But I feel that when it comes to these sorts of things, they’re inevitable, in the situation that we’re in.”
Davis says he doesn’t see the fee increases negatively affecting the environment for teaching, but he believes it could cause problems for some students who are struggling to get by. "One of the emerging situations we have is food insecurity, which is a nice way of saying some of our students don’t get enough to eat."
First-generation college student and student body president, Alyssa Molinski, says students are never excited about having to pay more. But, she says that if it’s for something like a salary increase for important employees, it’s justified.
“I'm a first-generation college student who is paying for college all on my own," she says. "It is always hard to hear this news of increasing fees. And I know that while it may be difficult for me, it’s even more difficult for other students on our campus.”
The UW Board of Regents is expected to approve the hike in student fees and room and board costs in a meeting in Milwaukee on Friday.
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