To Boost the Economy, Support the UW System and its Students

Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM by

higher ed tuition increase2Tuition at Wisconsin public colleges and universities has increased by 21% since 2008, according to a new report from a national policy organization. Rising tuition levels make it harder for students to afford to go to college and harder for Wisconsin to develop the skilled workforces we need to attract businesses and compete for the jobs of the future.

The increase in tuition means Wisconsin students at public colleges and universities paid $1,530 more for one year of tuition in 2014 than they would have in 2008, even after adjusting for the rising cost of living. If we multiply that amount by four, then we find that tuition costs for a four-year degree rose by $6,120 between 2008 and 2014.

Tuition is going up because Wisconsin has reduced its investment in higher education. Since 2008, Wisconsin has decreased support for public higher education by 22% per student – a cut that works out to $1,401 per student.

Cuts in state support typically go hand in hand with tuition increases. But state lawmakers made steep cuts to the university system in the last budget and also froze tuition, with the goal of forcing the University System to fund operations by drawing down its large financial reserves. Earlier this month, Governor Walker proposed extending the tuition freeze, in response to reports that the university reserves were still substantial.

Freezing tuition and drawing on established reserves may help keep college affordable in the short run. But once those reserves are gone, Wisconsin will need to find other ways to keep college costs within reach for students. Continuing to rely on reserve funds to balance the university system’s budget could create a larger budget hole that needs to be closed in future years.

Lawmakers who want to boost the economy and create jobs should focus on making the University of Wisconsin system stronger and more affordable, rather than on tax cuts that mainly benefit the highest earners. Communities benefit when more residents have college degrees. Areas with highly educated residents tend to attract employers who pay competitive wages. Those employees, in turn, use their wages to buy goods and services from others in the community, boosting the area’s economy.

Tamarine Cornelius

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