Why I Voted Against the Madison Initiative, by Guest Blogger Dakota Kaiser

April 29, 2009 | Blog

Today we feature a post from an undergraduate student at UW-Madison, Dakota Kaiser. Dakota is a rising senior, and recently distinguished himself as the sole member of the ASM (Associated Students of Madison) to vote against the Chancellor’s Madison Initiative for Undergraduates. While many if not all students and faculty can find something to like in the proposal, Dakota has taken a stand for reasons that only he can best articulate. Therefore, today he becomes the first-ever guest blogger on the Education Optimists, here to share his views. Welcome, Dakota!

Why did I vote no? First and foremost, as a student representative on ASM, I could not ethically endorse a tuition increase. As a representative from a rural working class background and a transfer student, I don’t believe my constituency supports this proposal. Higher education is on a path to pricing students out of college every year, and I don’t want Wisconsin to follow the trend. The largest piece of evidence provided for this money is the classic bar graph of funding and financial aid for the big 10. I don’t believe pointing to other schools with high tuition and wanting to fit in is a real argument. Pointing to others actions to justify your own didn’t work on the playground as kids, and it shouldn’t work now. We should take pride in our affordability not be embarrassed and quick to change it. I also question whether or not the BIG 10 is really our peer group. When the average Wisconsin high-school student looks at college choices, it’s not between UW-Madison and Penn State, it’s between UW-Madison and other UW schools and community colleges.

While this proposal argues that it will increase economic diversity on campus, I believe it will do just the opposite. Low income, first generation, and other students from disadvantaged communities are likely to suffer from sticker shock when seeing the high tuition on a website, pamphlet or other promotional material. Those students who most need the financial aid that this program is designed to create are those students who will not take it into account when making their post-secondary choices. While the administration just released their report (by no coincidence I’m sure) stating that family income has no impact on acceptance to UW-Madsion, I believe that it does affect who is applying in the first place.

Tuition is the last place a public institution should look to solve its problems, not the first. If the administration has spent a serious amount of time trying other methods to fill the gap and accomplish these same goals and then finally had to turn to tuition, this may be a different story. I also believe that many of the goals and proposals in the initiative can be solved with out such a large increase in funds. More funding doesn’t mean better advising, counseling, or instruction. We have no evidence suggesting that these areas are actually damaged, or that more funding will fix them. All we have are some anecdotal accounts, not solid data. Students were rushed to make a decision on this as it was rolled out, followed by only 6 weeks of an all out marketing, and lobbying blitz, with little time to let these ideas actually settle.

We also have been shown no evidence that changes in the area’s proposed will actually provide a better education, and there are no accountability measures or goals to judge success by. When I asked an administrator about how they will judge success in four years, I was told that they will have more faculty members, more advisers, and more services. When I responded that those are all means to the end of a better education, and asked how they would know that those things are actually making a difference, they had no answer.

In the end I believe that this proposal will not produce the intended results, and may harm our institution. In my opinion the average student doesn’t support this initiative, but they have been given no outlet to speak against it. In the one survey produced by ASM less than 20% of students supported the initiative, while over 80% were neutral or opposed. While the rest of student council was able to ignore that fact, and argue that the educated students were in favor of it and that as time goes on more will be too, I could not.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Anonymous

    May 5, 2009

    I'd like to take issue with a couple of points Dakota made here. First of all, peer institutions in this context are not those other schools considered by local students. Instead they are those of similar size which offer similar academic and research opportunities, qualified and prominent faculty, and a similar range of subject matter available for study. Although the UW system schools are all high-quality institutions, they cannot be called "peer institutions" with regards to matters of tuition. In this context, therefore, the Big 10 institutions are certainly our peer group. Even with this tuition increase, we will still have the second-lowest tuition rate in the Big 10.

    Secondly, we have quite a bit of evidence suggesting that our advising system on campus is challenged. There are advisers on campus who have as many as 800-1100 students. This is one problem money can fix if we are able to hire more advisers and reduce their student load, allowing them more to spend with the students they do have. Adding student services and faculty *will* increase the quality of education for all who attend.

    That said, I'm not arguing that higher education is not already ridiculously expensive, and I am committed to efforts to expand access and the economic and racial diversity on campus. However, let's not gloss over the fact that Chancellor Martin has said that this tuition increase will also go towards need-based financial aid, or that she will attempt to increase the amount of money contributed to the university by private donors. The price is going up for everyone right now, and it's a distortion to suggest that it all falls on the backs of the students alone.


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