- Special Reports
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is backing off a controversial plan to increase diversity and financial aid by raising all students’ tuition, the school’s chancellor said Tuesday.
Chancellor Joe Gow said he would still seek a tuition increase but will use the money to improve quality rather than add diversity to the overwhelmingly white and increasingly well-off student body.
The university will use the increase to add at least 500 students and dozens of professors to reduce class sizes, which are the highest in the UW System, Gow said.
His latest proposal comes days after state lawmakers rejected a plan to increase tuition by $1,320 over three years. University leaders had pitched that tuition hike as a way to expand and increase diversity without using tax dollars.
The proposal called for adding 1,000 students, with half of them from low-income families or minorities. The higher tuition would have been used to increase financial aid and need-based scholarships and boost efforts to recruit minorities.
Some Republican critics dubbed the plan “a tuition hike for diversity.” Democrats, meanwhile, said it made no sense to try to improve access by raising tuition. Both sides worried the increase would hurt middle-class families.
The state budget approved last week rejects that plan, saying tuition cannot be used to cover financial aid. In other words, the university can’t charge one student more so that another can pay less.
Gow now says he will scale back the diversity component of the growth plan and use state tax dollars, not tuition, for financial aid.
“This plan is really more focusing on growth and quality” rather than access, he said. “I think the concept of using tuition to fund financial aid was one that probably didn’t get enough scrutiny in the outset. Now, we know clearly that is a major issue for legislators from both parties and both chambers.”
Gow said he would ask the UW System Board of Regents to approve a higher tuition rate for the campus in the coming weeks. The increase will likely be slightly lower than the $1,320 originally sought, apply only to new students and go into effect next fall.
Undergraduate students at the university pay $5,830 in tuition this year. The university has about 8,600 students.
The regents have the authority to set tuition rates. But the university asked lawmakers to approve the original plan, however, because it would have used tuition money to pay for financial aid for the first time.
Gow said he wants to present the plan to the regents, who govern the UW System of 13 four-year universities, at their meeting next week in Madison or in December.
Earlier this year, the regents approved a $1,000 annual increase for business students at UW-Madison.
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