University of Wisconsin regents approve budget raising fees and campus housing

(AP) — The University of Wisconsin System regents overwhelmingly approved an annual budget Thursday that raises student fees and campus housing costs at four-year schools by an average of 2.6 percent despite misgivings about making college more expensive.

The regents passed the budget 16-1 after an hour of discussion without a protracted fight. Regent Bryan Steil, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he wasn't comfortable with the fee increases.

Steil told reporters after the vote that he's worried about ensuring college remains affordability.

"There's room for further improvement. I thought there were increases we could do without," he said. He declined to elaborate on which increases were most problematic.

According to budget documents, system schools said they had to raise fees to cover costs for student unions, athletic scholarships and programs, child care and bands as well as compensate for declining enrollment. Most of the housing costs are designed to cover dorm construction and upgrades as well as increasing costs of meal plans, according to the documents.

System President Ray Cross told regents he pressed chancellors to justify each increase. UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow told the regents that his school hasn't raised housing rates in four years and that the dorms date back to the mid-1960s and need improvements.

"None of us wants to raise fees," Gow said. "We're not a profit-making entity. We only raise fees to put it back into the operation."

Fee increases would range from zero at UW-Green Bay to $72 at UW-Milwaukee. Students at that school would face $1,474 in fees. UW-Madison's fees would increase by $45 to $1,260. The system's two-year schools would see an average fee increase of 3 percent.

UW-Fox Valley and UW-Manitowoc students would see the steepest increases at 9 percent. That brings fees at Fox Valley to $309 and fees at Manitowoc to $405.

UW-Eau Claire would see the largest housing jump with a 7.5 percent increase from $6,985 to $7,506, due largely to cover the costs of constructing a new dorm and renovating another. The work also is expected to force more students to live off-campus, translating to less revenue, according to the budget documents.

UW-Marathon County and UW-Marinette are the only two-year schools that offer room-and-board. Costs would jump 3 percent at each school to $5,163 at Marathon County and $4,016 at Marinette.

Regent Janice Mueller complained about how the increases fluctuate across system schools, while Regent Ryan Ring, a UW-Eau Claire student, pressed about why room-and-board costs had to go up.

Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison's student government arm, issued a statement blasting the increases, saying higher fees and housing expenses make it harder for poor students to access higher education.

The budget keeps resident undergraduate tuition flat for a fifth straight year, as mandated by the Legislature. It also includes $25 million in state aid that legislators withheld from the system during the last fiscal year but restored this year.

UW-Madison supporters have complained that the flagship campus will get only about $2.9 million of that money. They argue that UW-Madison should get about $9.4 million because the school traditionally receives about 38 percent of all system state aid.

Cross defended the allocation, suggesting that UW-Madison is on solid financial footing. The campus has been allowed to increase tuition on out-of-state, graduate and professional students, he said. Those increases combined with state aid translate to a 3.7 percent increase in UW-Madison's budget, he said.

"The last thing we want to do is negatively impact the flagship," Cross said.

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