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Wis. GOP blasts UW over tuition surplus

By: AP/Joe Nelson Email
By: AP/Joe Nelson Email

MADISON/MENOMONIE, Wis. (AP, WEAU) -- Republican legislators are giving University of Wisconsin System officials a tongue-lashing over a report that shows the system has squirreled away a massive tuition surplus while raising students' rates for years.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a report Friday that showed the system had a $648 million surplus as of the end of June, including $414. 1 million in tuition.

Republicans on the Legislature's employment relations committee told system President Kevin Reilly during a hearing Tuesday they're shocked. Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills accused Reilly and system officials of scheming to hide the surpluses from the public. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington said the entire state is outraged at the system.

Reilly responded the surpluses serve as a safety net as state aid for the system dwindles.

U.W. Eau Claire and Stout representatives said their reserves are smaller than they should be, but that system-wide changes are needed.

"You've got to have money set aside, but it's always a question of how much do I really need?" U.W Stout freshman Ryan Thorpe said.

That's the question the U.W. System will have to answer after the legislative fiscal bureau released a report saying the system had a $648 million surplus, with more than $400 million coming from tuition.
College representatives said the money is like a savings account and is designed to cover unexpected costs.

“It's like your house. It's like your personal finances. You don't want to be at zero all the time. You need a rainy day fund.

U.W. Stout executive director of communications Doug Mell said Stout only accounts for 1.7 percent of the system's reserves and has less than what's recommended by the higher learning commission.

“What's a large enough rainy day fund for UW stout or the UW system? I don't have an answer for that. That's not something that's my position to decide,” Mell said.

With the U.W. System's tuition rising 5.5 percent students each year, students say reserves should contribute to lowering or stabilizing student costs.

“You hear they have these extra funds where tuition could be a little lower for everyone,” Thorpe said.

“If you apply somewhere and tuition is one rate, it should stay that rate until you graduate,” U.W. Stout sophomore Julia Trepte said. “You may start and not be able to finish because it will keep raising.”

Mell said lower pay for faculty is a bigger issue that the regents should consider.

“We've had searches for faculty and staff that fail all the time because the pools aren't large enough. That's the number one problem that we're having,” Mell said.

Governor Walker said he will push to freeze or reduce tuition because of the surplus.

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MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker says he is not looking to cut funding for the University of Wisconsin System in his proposed budget despite a report that it has amassed a huge tuition surplus.

A memo given to lawmakers Friday by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo said the system finished the last fiscal year with nearly $650 million in reserve.

System officials asked the governor for an additional $37 million in his budget for the next fiscal year. He included an additional $181.3 million.

Walker said Monday during a news conference in Milwaukee that much of that money is for economic development initiatives that he considers essential.

But he also says the surplus should allow the university system to freeze or even reduce tuition, and he will push for that.


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