The same day the University of Wisconsin System president proposed a 2 percent tuition increase, we learned that the system had more than $648 million in cash reserves at the end of the last fiscal year.

It was shocking and it was insulting for the UW System to ask struggling students to pay even more in tuition when the system has a full piggy bank.

Tuition across the UW System’s four-year schools has increased 5.5 percent annually since the 2007-2008 academic year. A student paid $3,784 for a semester in fall 2008 to attend UW-Madison. Now it’s $5,192 for a full-time undergraduate student.

That is a difference of $1,408 per semester and a difference of $11,264 for four years for those who can afford to graduate.

It’s no wonder student debt has skyrocketed and many college graduates have to put off buying homes, according to a recent Bloomberg News report. The average UW student now graduates with about $27,000 in student debt, state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, pointed out in a press release where he has joined Republicans asking for a tuition freeze at a minimum.

“Not only should we be freezing tuition given the news of the UW’s surplus,” Mason said, “but the state budget deliberations should include a serious conversation about reducing student debt by lowering the cost of tuition, increasing student financial aid, or both.”

We agree.

We understand the need to keep a healthy reserve balance. Student enrollment can fluctuate from year to year, private endowments vary and federal funds are volatile especially now with sequestration, UW System President Kevin Reilly said in a media interview following an appearance before legislators Tuesday.

Plus the UW System has said that of the $648 million in reserves, at least $441.2 million is committed or designated for specific purposes. But many questions remain about what exactly those projects are and their timelines.

You need to remember that the $648 million doesn’t account for federal aid, gifts or grants. If you add those funds back in, the total in reserves tops $1 billion.

Clearly there needs to be a larger discussion about the responsible amount to keep in reserves going forward and what oversight the UW Board of Regents and the Legislature should provide.

In defending the reserve balance, Reilly said it’s important to maintain reserves to ensure that a freshman starting college now will continue getting a quality education as a senior.

He also needs to remember the system is responsible for ensuring that a freshman can afford to continue going to school and graduate.


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