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Differential tuition

Another take on differential tuition

By Kelsey Dionne

More than one third of departments at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have charged their undergraduate students more than $6 million dollars in extra tuition in the last three years, using it for expenditures ranging from a gigantic toothbrush model to computers loaded with high-end design software.

Yet most students surveyed by Frontpage Milwaukee don’t even know they pay it.  The extra fees, officially called “differential tuition,” are mandatory charges for designated classes on top of regular tuition.

A review of the spending of the extra tuition showed the departments used some of the money to fund:   ·

  • A multi-thousand dollar machine that makes plastic models of project designs
  • New computers in buildings all around campus
  • A $10,000 sliding wall for a room in the Nursing department
  • A hand security access system for Peck buildings
  • Advising and technical support staff salaries
  • An interactive human model that can mimic medical problems
  • For the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, implementing the extra tuition allowed the school to cancel an unsatisfactory laptop-lending program and begin funding a new program in which each student gains personal access to a more powerful desktop computer.

Frontpage Milwaukee investigative journalists conducted a four-month investigation into the extra fees program at UWM by collecting dozens of documents, some unreleased to the public, conducting student surveys, gathering data through Facebook, and speaking to numerous faculty and deans at UWM.

The extra tuition was fueled in part by state budget cuts from the UW System.   The extra tuition charges are not technically tuition increases because they do not affect the entire student body of UWM.  They do not receive the public attention of actual tuition increases and were introduced within a few years of tuition hikes in the UW System, such as the $374 tuition increase of 2006.

In schools that use the extra tuition program, an average student taking three classes in his or her major will pay an extra $235 a semester on top of regular tuition.  However, the extra fee can range from $11 for one lower-level Architecture class to $738 for a full load of six upper-level courses.

The five departments that utilize the extra fees – the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business, Peck School of The Arts, the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Nursing – apply them to the majority of their undergraduate classes.

The extra tuition does not seem to have impacted enrollment in the schools that use it, according to interviews.  This year, the extra tuition program goes under review for the first time since its induction in 2004 as a pilot program.

There is no university-wide spending policy for the five schools that use extra tuition.  Instead, each school outlined its own policy in its proposal to the Board of Regents.

Why the Extra Tuition?

The extra tuition program at UWM is a pilot program in the UW System.  It is unique because it targets undergraduate in specific school and colleges, according to the Board of Regent’s approval document.  However, UWM is not the first to use extra tuition – UW Lacrosse has had an extra tuition program since 1997.

The Board of Regents first approved the extra tuition for the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business, Peck School of The Arts, the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Nursing in 2004.  In 2006, the Board of Regents approved the extra fees for the School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

At the Board of Regents meeting in 2004, according to minutes? Robert Greenstreet, Dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, said that the four programs initially approved for the extra tuition are high-cost programs.

Greenstreet also said that the funds generated would go toward quality enhancements and “providing an edge of excellence that these professional programs need.”

According to the meeting minutes, Regent Mark Bradley said that he would not be in favor of approving the extra tuition if it was going to be used to “solve problems created by inadequate funding.”

However, one reason the departments at UWM introduced the program is to make up for the increasing lack in state budget support, said Scott Emmons, Dean of Peck School of the Arts, in an interview with Frontpage Milwaukee.

“State contribution to education in Wisconsin is greatly reduced,” said Emmons.  “Things that should be the responsibility of the state, they haven’t paid for.”

The extra fees came in light of the UW System budget cuts said Brian Bromberek, former Chairperson of the Student Association’s Differential Tuition Committee.  The State of Wisconsin cut $250 million in general-purpose revenue from the UW System between 2003 and 2005, according to UWM’s 2004 to 2005 budget report.

The Laptop Program   For the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the extra tuition program actually costs students less on average than previous fees the department was charging for the school’s laptop-lending program.

Before the extra tuition program, each student in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning had to pay $525 per semester to rent a laptop with software required for their courses.  However, the department decided to switch to funding desktop computers after reviewing the laptop program and finding it unsatisfactory.

“The laptops were not powerful enough to run high-end software,” said Stephen Heidt, Assistant Dean in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The department implemented the extra tuition program to help purchase desktop computers.  Students now pay $369 on average for their extra tuition each semester.

The department also sold the laptops from the previous program to students for $400 each, earning the department $69,200.   “Desktop computers are the main thrust of our differential tuition program,” Heidt said.

However, because the extra tuition is based on how many credits in the school a student takes, sometimes the extra tuition can cost students more than the laptop program did.  Upper-level students who take three architecture classes will pay $369 a semester in extra tuition, but students who take additional classes will pay another $123 for each one.

Alex McEathron, a senior in the Architecture program, is taking five upper-level architecture classes this semester.  That means he paid $615 in extra tuition. When asked whether he thought what he paid was fair, McEathron said, “Yeah, I think so.  The university is here for us, and we’re paying for all of the stuff.”

Heidt said that the extra tuition program is critical for making sure that students have computers that run software necessary for their education.

“The state used to pick up a much larger percentage of your education.  The state is lessening their support,” Heidt said.  “There’s no way with the state budget we get that we’d be able to equip the computers.”

Oversight and Policies

According to the Board of Regent’s approval document for the extra tuition program, the departments that use it must:

Monitor enrollment in courses impacted by extra tuition

Collect student input on the extra tuition program

Notify students that courses carry extra tuition costs

The way in which each school accomplishes these requirements varies by their individual proposals.   Each school has an advisory committee that includes students for the extra tuition.  Also, each school conducts student surveys about the extra tuition, although some schools target different students.

For instance, the College of Nursing surveys junior-level students each semester because they are the heaviest users of some of the upgrades to the college’s facilities.  The College of Engineering and Applied Science surveys students in labs in which new equipment had been purchased with the extra tuition money.

The Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business conducted student surveys regarding student advising, an area the school wanted to enhance with the extra tuition money.

All of the schools agreed to post information for students on their websites about the extra tuition and to update it annually.  However, at the time of writing the School of Architecture and Urban Planning has not yet posted spending reports online.

Communication of information to students about how the schools use the extra money can sometimes be unclear, said Bromberek.   “We’ve done reporting back to the students at the end of the years.  In some of this reporting, we can do better,” said Emmons regarding Peck School of the Arts.

Student Involvement

Frontpage Milwaukee found in an informal survey of students that more than half the students surveyed didn’t know about the extra tuition despite being in a school that utilizes it.  Also, all 41 of the students surveyed said they had never before taken a survey asking their opinion on how their schools should spend money.

The ways that schools inform students of the extra tuition are sometimes different.  For instance, the College of Engineering and Applied Science puts up fliers and sends out emails, and the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business sent representatives to visit classes to answer student questions.

Emmons, Dean of Peck School of the Arts, said he wants to put up monitors in the school that will show information about the tuition so students will know how it is being spent and how they can be involved in the process.

Lee Wisinski, a 21-year old student in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, said he found out about the extra tuition because it was listed online when he signed up for courses.  He estimated that he had been charged between $200 and $300 in extra tuition during his time at UWM.

“I don’t know specifically what they use the money for,” Wisinski said.  “I’m sure if you wanted to figure out why they charge you extra, you could.”

Adam Herried, 19 years old and a freshman in Business’ finance program, said that he doesn’t know very much about the extra tuition.

“I’d say it’s out there, but the majority of people might not know about it,” Herried said.  “I was at least informed about it,” he added, saying that he remembered receiving an email about it.

Max Cunningham, a 25-year old senior in Peck’s music program, said that he thinks younger students are less likely to know about the extra tuition.

“I haven’t really thought about it as being really secretive,” said Cunningham, who supports the extra tuition.   Each school monitors enrollment in the courses to which the extra fees are attached.  Some schools have experienced growth in their enrollment numbers.  For example, Peck School of the Arts has had a 21 percent growth in student enrollment since the school’s adoption of the extra tuition, according to Emmons.

The School of Business has monitored the average class size of its discussion sections.  According to their report, the average discussion size in the 2006 to 2007 term was 25 students.  However, it would have been 45 students assuming that there was no extra tuition to fund added teaching assistants.   Both the College of Nursing and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning have continued to have more applicants to their programs than they can admit.

“We check on enrollment consistently,” said Ronald Perez, Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

He also said that enrollment remains constant, even despite the fact that the school recently increased its admission standards.   After the three-year review of each department, the UWM Student Association will decide whether to continue the extra tuition programs.

How Departments Spend the Money

On the third floor of Cunningham hall, Nursing students stand over a man in a hospital bed who has been complaining of stomach pain.

He’s a regular in the nursing building, not because he’s a hypochondriac, but because he is actually an instructional mannequin.

In the Architecture building, a student waits while a lab machine creates a miniature model of his project with a special kind of powder.

In the Music building, a student practices the tuba at 3 a.m. in a newly updated practice room after gaining access to the building with a hand-scanning machine. These are just a few examples of how the departments at UWM have spent the extra tuition.

Each school puts the extra tuition money toward different areas depending on student or program needs.  The needs are decided through surveys and input from the schools’ advisory committees.

Outlined below are lists of the some of the expenditures of each school:

The Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business spent:

  • $91,000 on increasing the number of teaching assistants in 2006-2007
  • $187,200 on three new advisors and a part-time Student Services office manager in 2006-2007
  • $691,600 on additional teaching and adjunct faculty in 2006-2007
  • $19,800 on tutoring support in accounting, financing and statistics in 2004-2005

The College of Engineering and Applied Science spent:

  • $83,735 on computer upgrades from 2004 through 2008
  • $52,152 on Junior and Senior laboratory upgrades in 2005-2006
  • $37,500 on a lab machine that makes plastic design models in 2006-2007
  • $1,000 on testing specimens in 2006-2007

The School of Architecture and Urban Planning spent:

  • $10,309 on property insurance for laptops in 2006-2007
  • $329,096 on desktop computers in 2006-2007
  • $2,500 on power strips in 2006-2007
  • $14,357 on student hourly salaries in 2006-2007

The College of Nursing spent:

  • $10,493 on a sliding partition wall in 2006-2007
  • $43,369 on upgrading computers in computer labs in 2006-2007
  • $35,000 on Clinical Faculty salaries in 2004-2005
  • $62,500 on a simulation mannequin that imitates a human patient in 2004-2005

Peck School of the Arts spent:

  • $33,591 on a hand security access system in 2004-2005
  • $105,000 on additional visual arts instruction costs in 2006-2007
  • $37,109 on a Music room remodeling and equipment upgrade in 2005-2006
  • $15,548 on performance lighting equipment for Dance students in 2004-2005

How Extra Tuition Affects Students

There is no question that the added financial burden of extra tuition is sometimes viewed negatively, both by some staff and students.

“It does put a financial strain on the students,” Bromberek said.

According to the meeting minutes from when the Regents passed the extra tuition, former Speaker of the Student Senate Neil Michals said that although the idea of more tuition from the students was unappealing, students facing outdated equipment or inadequate resources was worse.

The 2006 senior exit surveys from students in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning showed mixed opinions on the price of being a student in the program.

One student said that the low price of classes in the department were “being threatened by SYSTEMATIC tuition increases and increased fees (differential tuition, E3 program, etc.) in the face of static financial aid awards.”

Another student simply said, “affordability.”

When Frontpage Milwaukee spoke with Emmons, he compared the extra tuition to paying taxes.  You don’t like paying it, he said, but you had better pay it if you want your streets plowed.

“If programs are better, they have better equipment, students want to be there,” Emmons added.