The University of Minnesota's threat to withdraw from the Wisconsin tuition reciprocity agreement helped break a 3-year-old log jam. The agreement -- which needs additional approval from both states -- will gradually wean the state's general fund from money Wisconsin already pays for the tuition difference. The money will eventually go directly to the Minnesota schools.
On his weekly radio show, Gov. Pawlenty acknowledged the dispute has been a "sore spot." He says students shouldn't notice a difference.
"At least to the students it will appear like the same arrangement that we had, but there is some accounting recognitions that will take place between Wisconsin and Minnesota that will show up to the credit of the University of Minnesota that will offset these tuition differentials."
The existing agreement -- in place since 1968 -- allows students to pay the comparable tuition from their home state when they cross the border. As tuition has skyrocketed in recent years, the U of M complained Wisconsin residents were paying less in tuition -- as much as $2,700 less-- than their Minnesota counterparts in the same classrooms.
The U of M says it's losing $7.5 million a year because of the tuition difference and announced intentions to withdraw from the agreement, making all Wisconsin students pay the higher rate in Minnesota. Minnesota Office of Higher Education Director Susan Heegaard says the reciprocity program's uncertain future triggered a big response from students and their families.
"We'd been getting lots of calls. The governor's office has gotten lots of calls, our office has gotten a lot of calls, there've been calls to the systems and calls to Wisconsin about what's happening because people really think this agreement is important. Our message now is nothing is going to change on a surface level. It's business as usual and we're really pleased to let people know that."
Heegaard's office entered active negotiations over the reciprocity deal last fall. She says the U of M's threat to drop out of the agreement gave the issue more urgency.
"I think the University having this be on their agenda prompted probably our conversations to move along a little more quickly and I think that's probably a good thing."
MnSCU schools will receive 15 percent of the Wisconsin supplemental payment. MnSCU officials say Winona State University is losing $1.1 million a year because of the lower tuition paid by Wisconsin students.
Wisconsin officials have long maintained they were upholding their end of the deal, and any problems came because the Minnesota legislature refused to forward its annual tuition compensation payment to the institutions. Last year Wisconsin paid the state $7.8 million. Carla Vigue, spokeswoman for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, says the new agreement complies with Wisconsin's wishes. "There were some issues within the state of Minnesota that needed to be worked out. And all along the governor's been trying to ensure that kids from Wisconsin who want to go to Minnesota schools can still go there and be able to afford the tuition there so all around I think it's a good deal."
The payment shift will be phased in over four years starting with the freshmen class in the fall of 2008. An additional class will be added each successive year. The agreement must be approved by U of M regents, MnSCU trustees and a Wisconsin legislative panel before it is finalized.