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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 23, 2014

Wisconsin college tuition: Average increases 5.5%, never before been frozen two straight years?

One accomplishment Gov. Scott Walker claimed Jan. 22, 2014 in his State of the State speech is of particular interest to students attending college in the University of Wisconsin System.

And their parents.

"After years of 5.5 percent average tuition increases," Walker said, "we now have a two-year tuition freeze for the first time in the history of the UW System."

This is likely a statement Walker will repeat as the campaign for the November 2014 gubernatorial election picks up steam.

Knowing that tuition rates vary among the different UW System institutions -- four-year universities vs two-year colleges, for example -- we wondered if the increases have averaged 5.5 percent and if there has never before been a two-year tuition freeze.

The system

The UW System is made up of 13 four-year universities, 13 freshman-sophomore colleges and the statewide UW-Extension. Altogether, the system serves some 181,000 students each year and employs more than 39,000 faculty and staff, with an annual budget of $6 billion.

The system was created in 1974 by a law that merged the state’s two public university systems under an 18-member Board of Regents. That board -- 16 members are appointed by the governor and two are state school officials -- sets tuition.

Generally speaking, the regents request that 65 percent of instructional funding come from state general fund money and the remaining 35 percent from tuition.


Before we dive into the numbers, it’s important to note there are four tuition rates within the UW System: one for UW-Madison; one for UW-Milwaukee; one for the other four-year schools, such as Superior, Eau Claire and La Crosse; and one for the two-year colleges, such as UW-Fox Valley and UW-Waukesha.

The two-year tuition freeze Walker highlighted in his speech has gotten plenty of news coverage. It was included in his 2013-’15 state budget, which became law in June 2013. The governor had proposed the freeze the previous month amid anger over how the UW System cash reserves had grown in recent years even as tuition kept increasing.

A table listing tuition rates that was posted by the UW System in January 2014 shows that once before, in 2000-’01, there was an across-the-board freeze for all four tuition rates.

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There have never been back-to-back, across-the-board tuition freezes until the current one, which covers 2013-’14 and 2014-’15.

But for the two-year colleges, tuition was locked for four straight years, from 2007-’08 through 2010-’11.

5.5 percent

As for the 5.5 percent part of Walker’s claim, here's a look at each of the four rates.

UW-Madison: Tuition rose 7.9 percent to $9,273 in 2012-’13, the table shows. Over the previous five years, tuition increases ranged between 5.5 percent to 9.73 percent.

That includes a base tuition increase of 5.5 percent each year, plus an additional "differential" approved by the regents and UW-Madison students, UW System spokesman David Giroux told us. Money from differentials, which are also done by other UW campuses, gets targeted to needs such as high-demand classes that need more instructors, he said.

UW-Milwaukee: Tuition rose 5.5 percent to $8,091 in 2012-’13. The increases were also 5.5 percent in each of the previous five years.

Other four-year schools: The rates of increase were the same as at UW-Milwaukee. Tuition for 2012-’13 was $6,298.

Two-year colleges: After the four-year freeze, tuition rose 5.5 percent in each of the next two years, and was $4,750 in 2012-’13.

Our rating

Walker said: "After years of 5.5 percent average tuition increases, we now have a two-year tuition freeze for the first time in the history of the UW System."

Tuition increases were 5.5 percent or more for at least the two years before the current two-year freeze, depending on whether you’re considering tuition at the four-year universities or the two-year colleges.

The current freeze is the first two-year freeze system-wide, but not the first for the system’s two-year colleges.

We rate Walker’s statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

University of Wisconsin System, "UW System Resident Undergraduate Tuition 1967-68 Through 2013-14," Jan. 9, 2014

Email interview, Gov. Scott Walker press secretary Tom Evenson, Jan. 22, 2014.

Interview and email interview, University of Wisconsin System executive director of communications and external relations David Giroux, Jan. 22, 2014


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Wisconsin college tuition: Average increases 5.5%, never before been frozen two straight years?

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