UW regents to consider waiving out-of-state student limits

Todd Richmond, AP writer

University of Wisconsin-Madison officials plan to ask UW System regents for permission to lift the school’s cap on out-of-state students, a move they say would attract more young people to Wisconsin. It also would bolster the school’s coffers considerably as it struggles with deep budget cuts.

Currently out-of-state undergraduate enrollment at any UW campus can’t exceed 27.5 percent of the total undergraduate enrollment based on a three-year average. UW officials wrote in a memo to the regents that they want to lift that cap at the system’s flagship institution for four years beginning in the fall of 2016. The school would still be required to enroll and maintain a minimum of 3,500 Wisconsin residents in each new freshman class.

UW-Madison freshmen classes have hovered around 6,250 students each year since 2012. According to the memo, UW-Madison has enrolled more than 3,500 Wisconsin students in each new freshmen class those years.

The memo justified lifting the cap by noting the number of Wisconsin high school graduates is dropping; 71,000 students graduated in 2009 compared with a projected 64,100 this year, according to UW-Madison data. Higher education is already feeling the shortage of in-state students. The number of students enrolled in state, private and technical colleges has fallen steadily in recent years, from 386,570 in 2010 to 361,724 in 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. That will mean fewer workers for Wisconsin, the memo said. But UW-Madison can be an engine to attract young people to the state, it said.

“The changes being proposed will allow us to actively recruit top students from around Wisconsin and beyond so that those students are more likely to seek employment in our state when they graduate,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement.

More out-of-state and international students would also widen a revenue stream for the university. The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed in July cut $250 million from the UW System; UW-Madison lost $53 million this fiscal year.

Blank tried to convince the regents in April to approve a four-year plan that called for raising nonresident undergraduate tuition by $10,000 to $35,523. The regents agreed to implement only the first two years of the plan, which means a $6,000 jump for nonresident undergraduates and generate $40 million more for the school by 2016–17. More out-of-state students would boost those numbers even more.

Mike Mikalsen, an aide to state Sen. Steve Nass, a Whitewater Republican who chairs the Senate’s universities committee and has been an outspoken UW critic for years, said Nass doesn’t support the plan.

The request doesn’t come with any promises to increase the number of in-state students, Mikalsen said. In the end, it’s a pure money grab, he said.

“They’ve made a decision to grab the money,” he said. “This is strictly and solely about the money.”

UW System spokesman Alex Hummel insisted the request is driven by a desire to attract new talent to the state and boost the workforce.

The regents’ education committee is scheduled to consider the request during a meeting Oct. 8. If the committee approves it all the regents could sign off during a full board meeting on Oct. 9.