FRI., JUN 9, 2006 - 1:32 AM Regents raise tuition 6.8 percent KAREN RIVEDAL krivedal@madison.com The UW Board of Regents on Thursday raised tuition by 6.8 percent for resident undergraduates this fall while laying plans for a new two-year budget they hope will cushion future hikes for poor students through more financial aid.

The tuition increase will cost students $382 more per year at UW-Madison, $374 more at UW-Milwaukee, and $291 more at the other four-year campuses and two-year colleges in the University of Wisconsin System.

It follows an increase of 6.9 percent last year and about 37.5 percent over the previous two years - as the state struggled with deep budget deficits - for an average System tuition hike of more than 50 percent in the past four years.

Regents plan to ask the state for $8.6 million more per year in financial aid that would meet all need for low-income students who enroll between 2007 and 2012. After that, the first college students could be enrolling through a different financial aid program proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle, in which seventh graders from poor families sign a pledge that gives them a package of guaranteed financial aid if they get good grades, take college prep classes and stay out of trouble.

"There is no one who is very enthusiastic about supporting this," Regent Judith Crane said, after hearing staff explain the details for the latest tuition increase in the annual $4.3 billion budget approved 14-3 for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Not that the hike itself was unexpected. Most Regents have known since the state's current two-year budget was approved last July how much tuition would increase for this second year of the biennium, making Thursday's action largely a formality.

"The second year is really a done deal," said Freda Harris, the System's associate vice president for budget and planning. "The campuses have to manage with the resources that are in the budget."

State lawmakers and Doyle gave the System a roughly hold-even budget allocation for the current two-year cycle - not a deep cut, as in the previous biennium, but not enough to grow, either, officials said. Rapidly rising continuing costs such as utility bills, which outpaced the state's allocation by $19.8 million, also contributed to the tuition increase.

Regent Thomas Loftus noted the hike would be about 3.6 percent without the utility shortfall. Other parts of the increase were fed by higher health insurance costs and state-approved employee raises.

The board on Thursday also reduced tuition for non- residents by about $2,000 a year at all campuses but UW- Madison. The price break was designed to shore up falling non-resident enrollments, which hurt the System, because non-residents pay almost quadruple the tuition that Wisconsin students do.

With the price break, non- residents will pay about triple what residents do - still enough to cover the full cost of their education plus pay for a seat for a resident student, Harris said.

A few regents on Thursday also grilled top campus leaders from UW-Oshkosh and UW- Madison over cost-cutting decisions made in the current two- year budget. Regent Jesus Salas said those campuses weren't following the board's instructions to shave their share of $30 million in required administrative cuts without harming instruction and diversity efforts.

At UW-Madison, Salas faulted administrators for canceling non-credit, English- as-a-second-language classes, used largely by foreign graduate students. UW-Madison Provost Patrick Farrell said campus officials didn't like making the cut but thought it was an acceptable tradeoff in tight budget times. Students can get similar training through programs offered off-campus, Farrell said.

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