Audit: UW System paid out $68.5M in student refunds

The University of Wisconsin System paid out nearly $70 million in coronavirus-related refunds to students last year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Legislative Audit Bureau released findings that show the system paid out $68.5 million in housing and food service refunds to students after campuses closed in March as the pandemic was taking hold in Wisconsin. The report didn't say how much the system might have saved by closing down dorms and food services. State Auditor Joe Chrisman didn't respond to a message seeking further information.

Auditors also found that the Board of Regents approved reductions in other student fees at four two-year schools and at UW-Milwaukee heading into the fall semester to reflect a lack of athletics and performing arts programming. Student fees support both areas.

The fee reductions ranged from $36 per student at UW-Milwaukee's Waukesha branch to $187 per student at UW-Milwaukee.

The report went on to say that the system received $94.2 million in federal pandemic relief funds. Half of that money had to go for financial aid for students for pandemic-related expenses; the rest had to be used to cover changes in instruction delivery or student aid.

As of mid-2020, the system had spent $40.6 million, or 86%, of its student aid allocation and $17.5 million, or 37%, of the money earmarked for instruction and student aid. Reports the system filed with the U.S. Department of Education show 41,636 students across the system received emergency aid. The average grant across all UW institutions was $978.

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As of Sep. 30, system schools had spent 99.4% of their student aid allocations and nearly 90% of the rest of the funding on expenses ranging from housing and food refunds, student aid and student employees' salaries.

System President Tommy Thompson issued a statement later Tuesday saying the system has lost $257 million this year because of the pandemic.


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