As the university struggles to meet budget cuts and lapses, a solution is in the works.
Imagine a new stream of steady revenue (say, $5.5 million annually) that can be used to upkeep the programs that we’ll be otherwise forced to dismantle. The only catch is, this money is going to come from students through an increase in the cost of our tuition.
Differential Tuition, or what the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point is calling the ‘Pointer Compact,’ will most likely be implemented by next academic year.
“In a nutshell, a differential tuition is a tuition students pay on top of their regular tuition,” said Parker Smith, Speaker of the Senate for the Student Government Association.
The program is defended as a necessary evil that could resuscitate the university’s competitiveness, although the funding for such a project should ideally come from the state. “If money is being cut from our university, we need to cover it somehow,” Smith said.
“It’s a tough dilemma for the students. Should they make up for the lack of support from the state by footing the bill themselves? I believe it will improve the quality of education the students receive, but so would more state support,” said Andy Felt, professor of mathematics and member of the Academic Research Council’s (ARC) executive board.
UWSP is one of three UW campuses that don’t have differential tuition. UW - Eau Claire implemented it two years ago, even as students widely rejected the proposal in a referendum, and now has an extra $1,200 per student added to its operating budget (2012-13). UWEC has used these funds to advance undergraduate research, internships and practical experiences, and to increase the four-year graduation rate.
“If UWSP is to remain competitive with other campuses in the UW System (and beyond), we have to acknowledge the revenue gap that is created by the existence of differential tuition at other institutions. The Compact pledges to add an additional 160 class sections to help students make progress toward graduation. At the moment, we can’t do this because of limited resources. The compact also focuses on timely and sound advising, career planning, tutoring and other services,” said Jeff Morin, dean of the UWSP College of Fine Arts and Communication (CoFAC).
Specifically, differential tuition “will allow for increased course sections (through the hiring of 20 new full-time instructional staff), increased tutoring services, increased advising for undeclared majors, more undergraduate research and for students to meet new General Education Requirements,” according to Student Government President Ryan Rutledge.
“Additional courses will also be added so that our freshmen don’t get stalled right off the bat in their degree progress due to bottlenecks,” said Sonia Kurhajetz, a student senator.
“More tutoring and advising opportunities will be available so that, should students struggle in their classes, that extra support will be more readily available. Capstone and research opportunities will be present so that our students can build their resumes and learn more about their intended majors through real-world experience,” Kurhajetz said.
“In my opinion, students already pay too much for their education and the state isn›t fulfilling their commitment to higher education,” Rutledge said. “However, the differential will allow UWSP to remain in the toptier of colleges in the UW system through the increase in our graduation rates, retention rates, research and student support services while also providing the additional faculty to get rid of the bottleneck [courses].”
Although the current state budget prohibits tuition increases above the 5.5 percent yearly increase allowed at the system level, student government and administrators have lobbied the legislature to remove these restrictions for UWSP.
“Currently, no new differential tuition is allowed under the biennial budget bill. However, SGA has been working with various legislators and the Chancellor on a bill that will allow those schools currently without a differential to go through the process of getting one in place,” Rutledge said.
“Our efforts to put a differential tuition plan in place at UW-Stevens Point are advancing. We are receiving bipartisan support for that effort in the Legislature,” said Chancellor Bernie Patterson in an email to faculty and staff.
The ARC and the faculty union discussed the Compact and chose not to take a stand. “The Executive Board did see both sides of this coin. We’d also like to know what students think of it,” Felt said.
Kurhajetz noted that a survey via student email accounts would allow students to voice their opinions on differential tuition. The survey will be sent out and open from Thursday, November 17, at 8 a.m. to Monday, November 21, at 8 p.m.
Students can also contact their college’s senators or speak during Public Forum at the weekly student government meetings, held on Thursdays at 6:00 p.m. in the Legacy Room of the Dreyfus University Center.
“The implementation of the Pointer Compact affects all of us now and will affect all of us in the future,” Kurhajetz said. “We are one Point and need to come to a united front on this issue.”
“When I compare our college budget to those around the system and with colleagues across the country, I know that we are doing more with less. I worry that we will come to a breaking point in our ability to genuinely provide a transformative experience for students,” Morin said.