Sifting and Winnowing

March 25, 2009 | Blog

UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin’s Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, pitched as a way to improve both the quality and affordability of undergraduate education, is a deceptively appealing policy. On its face, it appears to be an efficient way to increase UW’s resources while decreasing inequities in access. It does this by taking a substantial step towards a “high-tuition/high aid” model that asks middle and upper-income students and families to pay more of the University’s costs.

In practice, this policy sacrifices equity for excellence, and puts one of the nation’s premier public flagship campuses in jeopardy. Make no mistake: it passes the burden of funding public higher education onto the shoulders of working families and students—in the midst of a financial crisis. While purporting to “hold harmless” lower-income students with increases in financial aid, it employs a poorly justified income cutoff that will make successful implementation near impossible. By raising the sticker price in the midst of a recession it is likely to have trickle down effects that effectively steer the low-income students elsewhere, while increasing the resource disparities between Madison and other System campuses. In effect, this initiative will make UW-Madison both more desirable and less accessible.

To demonstrate her sincere commitment to UW’s undergraduates, Chancellor Martin should move quickly to ensure that all consequences of her proposal—intended and unintended—will be carefully measured and considered. Under President Obama’s leadership the nation has moved toward an era of greater transparency, accountability, and data-driven decision-making. Part of Martin’s commitment to undergraduates should be to do the same.


  1. Reply

    harry b

    March 25, 2009

    So, I agree that the consequences should be transparent. But I'm in favour of higher tuition for those who can afford it (I think our tuition is too low, and amounts to a significant subsidy for those who have ample resources). But sticker price is a big problem, because the less well-educated and well-resourced the more likely you are to think the sticker price is the actual price.

    Three thoughts:

    1. Could there be a two sticker prices?

    2. The university should take care that when it targets materials to children from certain schools or in certain zip codes the first message on those materials is that if your family falls below a certain level you will not pay the sticker price.

    3. This, or something like it, is going to go ahead. So someone (probably you) needs to devise a non-arbitrary and sensible sliding scale that reflects a proper concern with equity social justice, and propose it (discretely and nicely) to her...

  2. Reply


    March 26, 2009

    Just came across your blog loved the way you post, just keep posts like this one coming lot often!

  3. Reply


    June 7, 2009

    this increase in tuition!!! people paying out of state is suffering too much the way it is.

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