Friday, April 18, 2014

The History of Cuts in State Budget Support - Megan Sukovich

 Investigative Story- 
$15.68 million has been cut from the UW-L budget in the last 13 years, representing the lack of overall state support within the UW system. The over half a billion dollars cut from the UW system budget in 13 years demonstrates a trend that has been occurring over the past 30 years on a national scale.
 State budget decisions cause partisan conflict across the country. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve had legislators and governors from both sides of the aisle. It’s the same in other states. It’s not that they’re mean people, they just have other priorities,” says Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Bob Hetzel about the difference of political priorities.
There are federal mandates that require states to prioritize things such as Medicaid, prison facilities, and infrastructure in their budgets. Once the main concerns are accounted for, states then focus on K-12 education over public universities. Hetzel says, “You can’t charge a prisoner tuition, or a kindergartener, but you can charge a college student the cost of education.”
The budget cuts have impacted the cost of student’s tuition, faculty size, and the overall abilities of the university. Over the past 13 years, UW-L last lost 78 positions, 70 of these positions being faculty. To offset the cuts, UW-L increased students’ tuition by $1,000 per academic year in a 2007 referendum. Since the tuition increase, UW-L hired 165 new faculty and 35 new staff members to increase “growth, availability, and accessibility.” UW-L wants the quality of learning to remain important.
In addition to UW-L, the 25 other state institutions are feeling the effects of the budget cuts.  A few institutions, such as UW-Madison, also increased their tuition to counter the cuts. However, UW-Superior and UW-Parkside are experiencing rapid declines in enrollment declines and are seeking a $1 million loan from the UW system to avoid bankruptcy.
In 2013, Wisconsin Legislature enacted a two-year tuition freeze after the UW system revealed more than $600 million in reserves. On April 11, 2014 Governor Walker proposed freezing the tuition for an additional two years due to projections showing that the UW System still expects more than $1 billion in cash balances in June. Before the freeze, tuition had risen 5.6 percent or more every year for 10 years. Despite the freeze, holding tuition costs is not the solution to the overarching problem. Costs continue to increase in other areas than tuition, such as heating and cooling costs. Hetzel does not foresee a turn around for the UW System educational budget. “It’s a spiral that’s gotten out of control. It’s daunting and it’s to take a long time to recover.”
Tuition increases and total costs go beyond inflation due to the budget cuts on a national scale. In 1973, total cost for a four-year public institution was $2,710. Presently, the average total cost in 2013-14 is $18,391. In addition, the balance between what students pay and what the state covers has drastically shifted. In the 2013 financial year, state support only accounted for about 14% of total costs at UW-L, making student support about 86%.
UW-L alumni Nancy and Scott Bakkum have three children, two currently attending universities and one a recent graduate. “It worries us that our children are paying over 10 times the amount of tuition that we did 25 years ago. The worry of larger debts coupled with less job availability is our biggest fear for them,” says Nancy. Scott Bakkum graduated from UW-L in December of 1982 with debt for a $10,000 loan. The average student loan debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400, according to a report released in April by the Institute for College Access & Success' Project on Student Debt.
The chain reaction between budget cuts and tuition increases is causing most students to rely on loans. The amount students are able to borrow depends on the total costs of the university or college, making a need for greater financial aid. UW-L Professor Thomas Pribek speculates that the trend in budget cuts is being encouraged by the availability of borrowing financial aid. “It’s easier to increase tuition if you can automatically borrow,” says Pribek.

Current UW-L students are conscious of expense of college. Sophomore UW-L student Jared Karis says, “You are paying for a stressful time in your life, but I can’t imagine not going to school.” Students continue to attend college regardless the increasing costs. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.3% of students who graduated high school in 2011 were enrolled in college.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tuition Is Only Half the Bill for College, by Mikayla Peters

Full-time students at UW-L might pay more than they expect for schooling.  The total cost of schooling, including segregated fees, room and board, enrollment fees, and other fees often doubles the cost of tuition. Few students recognize or look at this when thinking forward to college.

For a full-time student from Wisconsin taking 12-18 credits on campus, the cost per semester is $4,385. Before 2008, the cost per semester was $3,812. This cost includes segregated fees. For each additional credit over 18, Wisconsin students are charged $316.03. The University of Wisconsin system claims on their website that “There is an additional tuition charge of $197.93 per credit for all credits over 18.” 

Fees make a difference, fees such as meal plans, residence halls, segregated fees, enrollment fees, and other fees. The total cost of schooling is not regulated by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Fees vary by school. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, the University of Fox Valley costs $5,025 yearly for resident students, the lowest in the UW system. The highest undergraduate tuition is at University of Madison, at $10,403. This means there is a $5,378 difference between the highest and lowest tuitions in the system. These numbers show that little regulation leaves the cost up to the decision of the school. At $8,769, the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse is near the higher end of tuition costs. Tuition may be the only thing students look at when deciding where to go to college. It seems to be the only thing the state focuses on.

State subsidy focuses solely on tuition. After adding in all the other fees required in going to the University of Wisconsin, the state only covers 14.28% of the total cost. That leaves students scrambling to find funding for the other 85.72%.  This often means part- or full-time jobs taken on by full-time students, applications for scholarships, and stress placed upon the students. The stress alone is a cost often not taken into consideration when looking at colleges. Students must find transportation to and from work. This means either taking the bus, getting a ride from a coworker, riding a bike, walking, or bringing a car to campus. Bringing a car to campus means an added cost of a parking pass, which can cost between $194 and $244 per semester. These fees add up over time. Even required fees, such as meal plans, are sometimes overlooked by students.

At UW-L, the meal plans can cost up to $1,225 per term, depending on the plan chosen by the student. 19 meals per week, which means approximately 2 meals per day, plus 5 extra meals, cost $1,225. Cheaper options include 14 meals per week, 2 meals per day, which costs $1,205. For 75 block meals on campus, plus $50 in campus cash, students pay $620. For 50 block meals, students pay $345. All meal plans include $75 in campus cash, excluding block meal plans. In order to eat 3 times a day on campus through their meal plan, students must choose the most expensive option. Students trying to save money may end up going hungry for a while. Also, meals reset at the end of each week, leaving no room to save up meals for a day or week when students know they won’t be able to eat out at all. Those meals aren’t refunded. Students who sign up for too many meals end up paying more for nothing. If a student can’t eat 19 meals a week, they either lose the meals or give them away to friends, family, or classmates.

The residence hall pricing varies depending on the hall and number of roommates. For one semester in a traditional hall double-room, students pay $1,750. For a regular triple room, students pay the same amount, $1,750. For a regular triple in Hutchinson hall, students save about $200 per semester, paying only $1,550 per semester. This is the cheapest option of on-campus housing. Eagle hall has three types of rooms, triple, double, or single. A triple room costs $1,950 per semester. A double room costs $300 more, at $2,250 per semester. A single room costs $425 more than a double room and $725 more than a triple room, at $2,675 per semester. That price is identical to the pricing of a room in Reuter hall. 

The average apartment in Lacrosse costs between $250 and $300 per person per month. For nine months (September through May), the cost can vary between $2,250 and $2,700. After adding in expenses and parking, the cheaper option is living on campus. The cheapest on-campus living is in Hutchinson hall, and the most expensive housing option is either Eagle hall or Reuter hall. The difference in price between the two is $1,125, or almost the cost of the cheaper meal plan. But, meal plans and parking permits are not the only extra fees on campus.

Lacrosse’s segregated fees are $459.13 per semester. Six schools in the UW system have higher segregated fees, including UW-Eau Claire, UW-Madison, UW-Green Bay, UW-Parkside, UW-River Falls, and UW-Steven Point. UW-Green Bay has the highest segregated fees, coming up at $657 per semester. UW-Stout has the lowest segregated fees, at only $27.36 per semester. 

Segregated university fees is a phrase used to describe charges in addition to educational or academic fees that are paid by all students. They cover services, programs, and facilities. The fees are used for recreational, cultural, and leisure activities and groups that are not state-funded.

The Segregated University Fee Advisory Committee develops the budget for segregated fees, and the Student Senate approves them. The fees are compulsory. They are not user fees. Rather, they function as a tax on students to improve the quality of the university. Individual students have no control over where the fees go, much like other fees.

The green fund is a $7 required fee for students. It was put into place in 2008. Altogether, the university receives $60,000 per semester from students for projects that improve the environmental impact of the university. These funds do not go towards bikes, bike storage, bike racks, trees, landscaping, plants unrelated to rain gardens or green roofs, or any item put in any other department’s jurisdiction. 

The highest priority of the green fund is that projects be conspicuous and noticeable, that funds are matched through other organizations, and that the energy produced by the university is reduced. Students can create projects to submit to the green fund. The projects are reviewed by a board and chosen based on the priorities listed above. 

On campus at UW-L, students have recently been seeing signs for a new Rec Center. That would add another $14 dollars per semester per student, totaling $120,000 per year for the Rec Center. This is double the green fund on campus. The precedence put on the recreation center says a lot about the campus itself. 

Other fees include enrollment fees, registration fees, service fees, graduation fees, and transaction fees.
There is an enrollment fee of $160 for new students only, which includes orientation, advising, and registration. All new and transfer students taking a placement exam must pay $32 for the placement test. 
Each semester, each student pays $15 in registration fees, $6.50 to career services, and $2 to use D2L. In order to graduate, students must pay $42. 

Also, for any credit or debit card transactions, the university charges 2.75% convenience fee. For insufficient funds, including returned checks, students pay a $20 handling charge in any University of Wisconsin school. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tuition Up, Faculty Compensdation Not, by Sam Guinta

            Teachers’ salaries are not being raised proportionally to inflation or to raises in tuition.  According to Bob Hetzel, UW-La Crosse Budget Coordinator, budget cuts in the UW system are at the heart of this problem, and there is no sign of their coming to a halt
            Over the last fifteen years, the UW system has taken a total of $612 million in budget reductions, with UW-La Crosse losing a total of $15.68 million in base reductions and an additional $8.57 million in one time budget reductions.  Higher education has taken a back seat to K through twelve education, correctional facilities, Medicare, Medicaid and transportation.  As a result, the financial burden on students has been steadily increasing even though UW-La Crosse has lost a total of 78 faculty and staff positions in the last fifteen years.  At UWL, students have gone from being responsible for 40% of educational funding in 2002 to almost 70% in 2013.  All while the state has steadily decreased funding for UWL and each of the other 25 state schools in Wisconsin.
            Where do teachers’ salaries factor into all of this budget reduction?  Looking at inflation, teachers At UWL have been denied the amount of compensation compared to rising costs of living.  In the 1974-1975 school year, professors at UWL made an average of $20,051, associate professors made an average of $16,356 and assistant professors made an average of $13,690.   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adjusted for inflation in 2013, a professor should be making an average of $94,750, an associate professor should be making an average of $77,300 and an assistant professor should be making an average of $64,700.  These are not the cases in reality however.  According to the UW System Fact Book from 2012-2013, each of these positions at UWL, respectively, earns $77,051, $61,669 and $58,529, which are, again respectively, 29%, 31% and 10% lower than what inflation would amount to.
            Tuition increase is also an inaccurate reflection of what teachers’ salaries are today.  In 1976, tuition was $544 per semester, each credit costing an average of $34.  In 2013, tuition at UWL was $4384.52 per semester with each credit costing an average of $400.63.  There was an 806% increase in tuition over those thirty-seven years.  Over those same thirty-seven years, a professor’s average salary at UWL went from $21,174 to $77,051, this being a 364% increase.  These two statistics obviously do not match up, but if they did and professors’ salaries increased proportionally to tuition costs, a professor’s average salary would be, on average, $170,650.
            One UWL teacher observed, “people still assume I make over $100,000.  I laugh, but I really should be.”  If teacher salaries rose proportionally to tuition, this would be the case, however with things like Act 10, public educators have to pay for more benefits without proportional compensation.
            Similarly, a UWL sophomore says, “if my tuition is raising but the teachers who are teaching me are not getting paid more, then there might be something more.  I want them to want to teach me well.” 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Student Debt Continues to Rise, by Madison Norris

Seventy-one percent of all undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse will have student debt after graduation. College students across the U.S. are required to pay for most of their education because the state budgets less for higher education year after year.

More students are relying on loans to help pay for their education, causing the student debt to increase significantly. The average student debt of an undergraduate at UWL is $24, 863 according to 2012 data from The Project on Student Loan Debt. Bob Hetzel, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance at UWL, says that the debt is now closer to $26,000.

In 2012 the average University of Wisconsin- Madison student debt was at $24,700, lower than the UWL student debt; the average University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire was $23,825; and the average National student debt was $29,400 for an undergraduate.

Since 2001 the UW system has received a total $612 million base budget cut. UWL has received a $15.68 million base reduction cut along with an additional $8.67 million in one-time reduction costs over the last 12 years totaling to $24.25 million dollars.

In 2002 the state of Wisconsin paid for 60.03% of UWL students’ tuition costs, leaving students to be charged 39.97% of their academic fees. Last year the state only paid 31.81% of UWL students’ tuition, leaving students to pay for 68.19% of their academic fees. These numbers do not include room and board, for which often students need to take out loans as well.

“I’m shocked at by how much I didn’t know about my debt. The numbers are so large I’m not even sure how to comprehend them. Honestly, it’s scary,” says UW sophomore, Arionna Gunderman.

According to CNN Money, graduate student debt is more than double that of an undergraduate. The national average graduate student debt rose 43% in the last eight years to $57,600.

“I’m going to go to grad school to become a guidance counselor, so it’s not like I will make that much money after graduation. I don’t know how I’m going to pay this off,” says UWL sophomore, Brandon Forcier.

The national student debt has surpassed $1 trillion. Only mortgage debt is higher.

Student debt is becoming an increasingly large issue because federal student loans cannot be refinanced to save money. An individual takes out a student loan at a 6.8% interest rate, the rate they are stuck with no matter if interest rates drop in the future. However, most loans such as mortgages and cars can be refinanced at a lower interest rate.

A federal student loan cannot be discharged by bankruptcy or even death of the student. According to CNN Opinion, social securities are being garnished to pay for a grandchild’s debt because the grandparent co-signed the loan.

The result of not being able to refinance student loans will earn the government $184 billion over the next ten years.

Elizabeth Warner, a Massachusetts senator, has proposed a federal bill to allow students to refinance old student loans at the interest rates offered to new borrowers. If this bill does not pass, students taking out bills prior to July 1, 2014 are locked into the 6.8% interest rate, while students taking out loans after July 1, 2014 will have an interest rate under 4%.

Warren argues the mounting student debt risks future household spending, consumerism and retirement savings. The opposition argues the government cannot afford to refinance federal student loans. Warren’s response to the resistance is the federal government allows for low interest rates all the time. Big banks can borrow money for as low as 1% while students are paying as much as 9 times more.

Hetzel notes that making loans less expensive for students would be easier than lowering the cost of college tuition.

Students that choose a standard student loan repayment plan must make equal monthly payments of at least $50 for up to ten years. The average UWL student with $26,000 in student loans, a 6.8% interest rate, and a standard repayment plan will have to pay $364 a month to pay off their student debt in ten years. This number would decrease if federal student loans could be refinanced at a lower interest rate.

UWL’s It Make$ Cents program offers money management help and education for students. On April 29th the program is hosting a loan repayment event at 6:30 p.m. in Reuter Hall. The program also provides financial advising hours in Reuter Hall from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Thursday evening. Appointments are not necessary during these advising hours. Visit to make a separate appointment or to check out the program’s additional upcoming events.

For information on the different student loan payment plans after graduation and how to protect credit visit

Monday, April 14, 2014

Series about University Budget Situation Begins Tomorrow

               There is another two-year “tuition freeze” proposed, by Governor Scott Walker, for budget discussion beginning next year.  There is an election for governor later this year.  The background of budget situation for students, families and university staff could be relevant to discussions, especially during an election cycle.

                The overall budget situation for UWL stakeholders is average, by both state and national comparisons, according to research by students in the News Reporting and Editing class, Spring 2014. Their individual stories will be published daily, beginning Tuesday, April 15, on The Mercury, the on-line daily news site for the class.

                “Average” means tuition charges, compared to state subsidy, are significantly higher over recent decades and a series of budget cuts, while student debt is increasing.

This is the national trend since the early 1970s, though somewhat accelerated by the Great Recession, and probably unlikely to change. 

Specific findings include the following:

- cutting state support for higher education has been incremental since the early 1970s, with students paying the higher proportion even before the recession
- UWL tuition & fees (excluding room/board) is slightly over average among state campuses, slightly over its peer masters-granting universities, and less than the national average, including “flagship” campuses
- since the mid-1970s, tuition has risen approximately 800%, faculty salaries about 350%
- 71% of UWL undergrads have debt at graduation, approximately $26,000 each
- paying for college is no longer out-of-pocket for families but requires loans and other resources, including financial aid and employment
- total cost, including residence, food, & fees for non-academic activities, roughly doubles the tuition charges and becomes part of student debt
- student fees can increase during a “tuition freeze,” especially by consent (vote) of student body
- construction of academic facilities is not included in university budget;  residence halls, recreation and student centers are entirely student-paid but remain property of the state and can be sold or privatized

- UWL does not have a large percentage of “low income” students but also offers fairly modest scholarship awards

Friday, April 11, 2014

Time to Move Off Campus? by Carly Vail

Students at UW-L, as well as students all over the United States, usually end up moving off campus sometime in their college career. Some say it’s the specific freedom, others say the privacy, or the total experience of living on their own.
Once students move off campus, they are learning how to cook their own meals, while keeping up with homework and possibly working a job.
Sophomore Amanda Alden said her reasoning for moving off campus wasn’t based on  economics.  She said, “I wanted to be able to have more freedom and not have to worry about 24/7 supervision from a RA.”
Living on one’s own is something that everyone will eventually do. Some students think, “Why not jump start the process and start now?” It creates a more responsible person. Living off campus means students have to learn to cook, clean, and pay bills on their own.
Alysia Feldt said she decided to move off campus not only for the freedom, but also for the privacy. She enjoyed the dorm life and loved her roommate in Laux Hall, but she says it’s easier to get stuff done at home now that she has her own room.
The off-campus living experience could be finally learning how to work the vacuum cleaner, or not having specific hours where everyone must be quiet, or even just being able to have your own bedroom. Students seem to enjoy their own personal space, but also enjoy being social. Living off-campus gives many students this exact opportunity.