Gov. Walker calling for two-year tuition freeze in UW System

MADISON (WITI) -- Gov. Scott Walker is calling for a two-year freeze on tuition in the UW System after revelations the UW System was sitting on millions in reserves. There is broad political support for a tuition freeze, but some leaders say they hope the outrage doesn't damage education.

Kenya Stevens is a UW-Milwaukee junior, who says she was upset to learn the UW System has a reserve fund of $648 million -- the bulk of which came from tuition, which has increased 11% over the last two years.

"I'm going to school full-time and working.  It's coming out of my pocket," Stevens said.

This huge surplus came at a time when the UW System was complaining of cuts, and sparked outrage at the state Legislature.

Now, Gov. Walker is responding with a plan. A letter from Gov. Walker and the Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch to the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee calls for freezing tuition for two years, cutting state appropriations by more than $65 million over two years and having the UW System pay for economic development initiatives through its block grant program.

"The fact that they had hoarded tuition money and other money during a recession and they jacked up tuition on top of that and then cried poor to us has created a lack of trust," Sen. Alberta Darling (R - River Hills) said.

Darling is the chair of the Joint Finance Committee and says there is wide support for a tuition freeze.

"The Governor is right to say to say, 'look, this is unacceptable.'  We have to stick up for the taxpayer, stick up for the students whose tuition was jacked up at this time," Darling said.

Rep. Jon Richards (D - Milwaukee) agrees with the tuition freeze, but still wants resources for the University System.

"We shouldn't use this as an excuse to defund the university at a time when the economy is lagging," Richards said.

The chancellor of UW-Oshkosh says Gov. Walker's plan to slash money for the UW System "will once again test us."

A tuition freeze would come too late to help 21-year-old Supply Chain Management major Patrick Heding. He graduates this weekend.

"I sort of feel cheated, but at the same time there's nothing I can do. It's not like they're going to refund me or anyone else," Heding said.

Darling says the most important thing the UW System can do now is developing a clear policy on its reserves, something university regents say they're working on.