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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 4, 2011

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says a new tuition reciprocity deal with Minnesota makes college more affordable for Wisconsin residents

The start of September means the start of college classes in Wisconsin and Minnesota -- two states that for more than 45 years have used tuition reciprocity agreements to make it easier for students in each state to attend school across the border.

Reciprocity means a Wisconsin resident who attends a public university or technical college in Minnesota is treated as a Minnesota resident and can pay in-state tuition, rather than the higher out-of-state tuition rate. The same goes for Minnesota residents attending college in Wisconsin.

The difference is significant. At the University of Minnesota, for example, in-state tuition in 2011-2012 is $13,062 and out-of-state tuition is $5,000 more, figures from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education show.

When the annual renewal of the reciprocity agreement was announced on Aug. 15, 2011, an article on, the website of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, carried this headline: "Wisconsin students to pay more under new tuition pact with Minnesota."

The additional cost would be about $1,400 more each year for Wisconsin residents attending the University of Minnesota and about $2,200 for those attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the article said. The amounts vary at other campuses.

But in a news release issued the same day, Gov. Scott Walker said:

"This new tuition reciprocity agreement with the State of Minnesota makes college education more affordable for Wisconsin residents. Smaller tuition bills widen access to higher education, and that’s a win-win situation for students and Wisconsin."

Wait. More affordable even as you pay more?

Sounds like the new math.

Let’s hit the books.

Since 1965, Wisconsin has had a tuition reciprocity agreement with Minnesota in one form or another, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau. It’s the only reciprocity agreement that allows Wisconsin residents to attend public universities outside of Wisconsin and pay the lower in-state tuition rate.

Other reciprocity agreements relate to community and technical colleges in Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, according to the Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board.

Because tuition in Minnesota is generally higher, the reciprocity agreement was amended in 2007 so that Wisconsin would make supplementary payments to Minnesota schools, according to the state fiscal bureau.

Here’s an example of how the supplementary payment worked in the 2010-2011 school year:

Two schools considered comparable under the reciprocity agreement are the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota, where nearly half of the Wisconsin reciprocity students studying in Minnesota attend school.

In 2010-2011, tuition was $9,794 at the Twin Cities campus and $8,398 at UW-Madison, a difference of $1,396.

A Wisconsin resident attending the University of Minnesota had to pay only the $8,398; that meant the University of Minnesota was receiving $1,396 less than it received from a Minnesota resident. Through the supplementary payment, the State of Wisconsin paid the difference of $1,396 to the University of Minnesota.

Under the new reciprocity agreement, the supplementary payments to Minnesota schools are eliminated.

That means Wisconsin residents, starting with freshmen entering college in 2012-2013, will have to pay the full in-state tuition to attend school in Minnesota. Had the supplements been eliminated in 2010-2011, a Wisconsin resident attending the University of Minnesota would have had to pay $1,396 more in tuition.

The move is expected to save Wisconsin $2.6 million in 2012-2013 and more in subsequent years, according to the fiscal bureau.

In announcing the new reciprocity agreement, Walker said more than 10,000 Wisconsin students participate in the program every year. But his news release didn’t explain his quote about how the new deal makes college more affordable for Wisconsin residents, so we asked his spokesman, Cullen Werwie, for evidence.

Werwie didn’t have any. He simply pointed out that, if there were no reciprocity agreement, Wisconsin residents would have to pay the higher out-of-state tuition rate to attend school in Minnesota. But that goes without saying.

What’s more, the idea of tuition reciprocity is not new. An agreement has been in place since before Walker was born.

Let’s go to the Truth-O-Meter.

Walker said the new tuition reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Minnesota makes college "more affordable for Wisconsin residents."

But the new agreement doesn’t make attending school in Minnesota any more affordable. In fact, it’s just the opposite. By eliminating supplementary payments from the state, the typical reciprocity student from Wisconsin will have to pay $1,400 more in tuition each year, based on 2010-2011 figures.

Walker’s statement grades out as Pants on Fire.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin students to pay more under new tuition pact with Minnesota," Aug. 15, 2011

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Higher Education Aids board memo, May 24, 2011

Interview, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst Emily Pope, Aug. 31, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker, tuition reciprocity news release, Aug. 15, 2011

Minnesota Office of Higher Education, 2011-2012 tuition rates

University of Wisconsin-Madison, fall 2011 academic calendar

University of Minnesota, fall 2011 academic calendar

Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board, Financial Aid Programs page

Associated Press, "Wis. lawmakers agree to change Minn. tuition deal," May 24, 2011

Email interview, Gov. Scott Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, Aug. 30, 2011

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says a new tuition reciprocity deal with Minnesota makes college more affordable for Wisconsin residents

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