For eight years, there has been a state-imposed price freeze for in-state UW System tuition. (This restriction applied to UW-Whitewater as a System school.) The WISGOP wanted this freeze, and it has lingered since Walker’s defeat in 2018. During its imposition, administrators complained about the freeze, and rightly so: price freezes, even short-term ones, are a bad idea.
Now, however, as Kelly Meyerhofer reports, the UW System has decided not to raise tuition prices even after the legislature’s budget proposes removing this impediment to market-based prices.
There are two main possibilities for the System’s decision: (1) administrators were never sincere about opposing in-state price controls or (2) they recognize that for now the market won’t bear tuition increases even if those increases would again be legally permissible.
The second possibility seems more likely: reduced demand from demographic decline, competitive pressure from non-System residential or online options, and weak household incomes for many in-state families mean that the System isn’t now in a position to ask for higher tuition.
A System-wide decision against tuition increases suggests something else, too: that administrators are not confident that member schools would fare equally well in an unregulated tuition market. Some schools might be able to make a go of it (and thus gain additional revenue for their own programs and goals), but other schools almost certainly wouldn’t.
These price controls have not made the UW System schools stronger, as they (or at least many of them) now face an in-state market of reduced demand for their offerings.
The legacy of the last decade is a regrettably weaker Wisconsin university system.