MADISON, Wis. -- Republican lawmakers vowed Friday to freeze University of Wisconsin System tuition over the next two years after a report emerged showing the system has built a massive surplus of tuition dollars.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau study found the system finished the year that ended June 30, 2012, with nearly $650 million sitting in reserve, including about $414.1 million in tuition.
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The report went on to say the system had a $393.3 million tuition surplus as of mid-2011 and a $212.8 million tuition surplus as of mid-2009.
The system built the surpluses as it steadily increased tuition rates. The board of regents has raised base tuition across the system's four-year schools by 5.5 percent annually since the 2007-08 academic year. The increase has been steeper at some UW schools that have levied additional student charges on top of their base tuition.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Burlington Republican, along with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican from Juneau, and the Republican co-chairs of the legislature's powerful finance committee issued a joint statement ripping system administrators for raising tuition despite the surplus. They promised to freeze tuition in the upcoming 2013-15 budget and launch an investigation into system finances.
"Our state deserves better from the institutions that are educating our students and future leaders," the statement read. "It is not only unfair to the students and their parents who keep getting hit with tuition hikes; it's unfair to the taxpayers of Wisconsin."
Rep. Stephen Nass, a Whitewater Republican, chairman of the Assembly colleges and universities committee and a frequent UW System critic, called for system President Kevin Reilly to be fired.
"President Reilly and the Board of Regents knowingly jacked-up tuition ... on Wisconsin families over three years even though the funds weren't needed," Nass said in a statement. "These actions are nothing short of a betrayal of the public trust."
A system spokesman didn't immediately return a telephone message. Shortly before the fiscal bureau released the memo, Reilly issued a statement saying Gov. Scott Walker's executive budget provides the system with enough money that he would recommend the regents limit tuition increases to 2 percent in each of the next two years.
"Students are making decisions now about college," Reilly said in the statement, "and we need to send the message now that a high-quality UW education will remain accessible and affordable."