Office of the President
Testimony to Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee
Kevin P. Reilly, President, University of Wisconsin System
January 10, 2006
412 East, State Capitol
Good morning Representative Ballweg and members of the committee, and a happy 2006 to all of you. It is a new year, and with it comes the hope of progress and prosperity. I look forward to working with each of you – and all your legislative colleagues – on efforts to ensure all of our students succeed, to help Wisconsin families afford a quality public higher education, and to move the great state of Wisconsin forward.
The opportunity to be here this morning to express the university’s strong support for Assembly Bill 895 is a good place to begin, and I thank you for allowing me to speak about this important legislation. My UW System colleagues and I, but more importantly many of our students and their families, appreciate the strong, bipartisan support for increasing the maximum amount of the Wisconsin Higher Education, or WHEG, grant.
The Board of Regents and I are, and have been, deeply committed to keeping a UW education affordable for the majority of Wisconsin families. Like many of you, we are concerned that access for our lowest-income families is becoming increasing difficult. I believe that as the state’s premier developer of advanced human potential, we have a responsibility to make sure every person has access to higher education, and the capacity to realize his or her ambitions and dreams.
We know, too, that our financial aid programs have not kept pace with tuition increases, and that more and more of our students and their families are taking out loans to pay for higher education. And we know that by increasing the number of baccalaureate degree holders in Wisconsin, we can increase the state’s per capita income, generate more tax revenues, and build the 21st century economy that will keep Wisconsin viable and vital.
I believe that the promise of this university is the hope of Wisconsin’s future. I know that, together, we can make the dream of a university degree a reality for all Wisconsin residents who want to work to earn one, regardless of wealth.
A good place to begin is by increasing the maximum WHEG award from the current $2,500 to $3,000. As many of you know, the average tuition and fees for resident undergraduates at UW System campuses have increased more rapidly than the average state need-based grant. Between 2001 and 2004, while the WHEG grant has increased less than $300, our average resident undergraduate tuition and fees have increased by approximately $1500.
Our very neediest students – those whose expected family contribution to their education is nothing – zero – will receive the maximum WHEG award. Unless we increase the WHEG maximum, these nearly 6,000 students will be facing a tuition increase without a corresponding increase in their WHEG award. Some of them may stop going to college altogether, and that’s something none of us wants to see happen.
Not only can this legislation send a strong message to these students and their families, but it can also help to reassure many citizens who doubt their ability to afford a UW education, for themselves or their children.
We can do better for Wisconsin by actively addressing these issues with the state’s future in mind. We will be having more conversations about access and affordability in the months ahead, and I’ve challenged the Board of Regents to "think big" when it comes to initiatives regarding tuition and financial aid. We will welcome your input and counsel on these ideas.
We can begin to send these positive messages today by supporting the passage of AB 895. I again thank this committee for the opportunity to express our support, and I want to especially acknowledge those committee members – Representatives Ballweg, Boyle, Kreibich, Molepske, Schilling, and Towns – who introduced this legislation. I do hope that you and your fellow legislators can move quickly to pass this bill before March 2006 when the WHEG appropriations for the 2006-07 academic year are set.
I’ll be glad to respond to any questions, and in doing so, I should mention that I am joined today by several of my colleagues and a number of our students, including Susan Fisher, UW-Madison financial aid director, Sharon Wilhelm, UW System associate vice president for policy analysis and research, Connie Hutchinson, executive secretary of HEAB and Brian Tanner of United Council and several UW students. Rep. Ballweg, I believe you have their names and will call on them to address the committee.