New University of Wisconsin system president Jay Rothman plans to recommend a tuition freeze over the next school year for state undergraduates when he presents to the board the system’s annual budget next week.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Rothman, 62, said the tuition freeze would be funded using a $25 million allocation of federal pandemic relief funds announced by Governor Tony Evers in his January State of the State address.
“The bottom line is that we want to make it affordable, but we also want to make sure that we maintain the quality of excellence in education that happens within the university system,” Rothman said.
Asked how long the freeze will last or whether additional funds will be needed to fund the effort, Rothman said he is currently focused on the upcoming school year and future decisions will need to be discussed.
Last year, Republican lawmakers relinquished tuition-setting authority to the UW Board of Regents for the first time since 2013. Tuition fees for resident undergraduate students remained frozen during of the past nine years.
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Researchers from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum wrote in an April report that state spending on grants, loans, and scholarships for undergraduates grew rapidly from 2000 to 2011, but has stagnated since then. Students in the University of Wisconsin system eligible for a Wisconsin scholarship, the most common form of state financial aid awarded on the basis of financial need, received an average of $2,163 in 2010 but only $2,037 $ in 2021 – without adjustment for inflation.
The report also found that Wisconsin’s financial aid funding lags far behind other states. This may be the result of a political focus on maintaining the undergraduate tuition freeze in the state as a way to keep UW tuition affordable.
In addition to making college affordable, Rothman said he also wants to tackle enrollment numbers and attract more students from underrepresented groups, establish the system’s relationship with stakeholders such as those in the legislature and the business community and address ongoing concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. .
Rothman, who was unanimously chosen in January by the Board of Regents to lead the University of Wisconsin system, also expressed support for new UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, who was selected by the regents last month.
Although he was unanimously endorsed, the UCLA law school dean received almost immediate criticism from a handful of state Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who called it “blatant partisan selection.” UW-Madison officials said Vos and Mnookin had not yet met at the time.
“She’s a gifted scholar, I think she’s a gifted leader, and I really can’t wait for her to come to Madison full time so people across the state can meet her, in the legislature and beyond. “, said Rothman. “I think you’ll be as impressed with her as I am. She really is an extraordinary talent and I’m thrilled we were able to lure her to Madison.”
Rothman, former CEO and President of Foley & Lardner, a Milwaukee-based international law firm, is a graduate of Marquette University and Harvard Law School. He started his new role on Wednesday and will earn an annual salary of $550,000. His hiring ended a search process that began in 2019, included a failed search in 2020, and sparked the interim presidency of former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
The hiring of Rothman marked a change for the regents, whose last three permanent presidents were insiders from the system. Most have obtained at least a degree from a public institution. And all past presidents except Thompson entered office with a strong academic background.
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